China commits to be a 'good neighbor' to PH, pledges to maintain regional peace, stability

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 27) — China is committed to maintaining regional peace and stability and would like to work with the Philippines to properly manage the two countries' differences, China’s ambassador assured late Thursday.

Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said China has a greater stake than any other country to safeguarding the peace and stability of the South China Sea, where more than 60 percent of its foreign trade and energy supplies pass through.

The South China Sea issue is "not the sum total of China-Philippine relations, nor disputes the sum total of the South China Sea issue," he added.

The two countries have been locked in maritime disputes in the South China Sea. A 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling invalidated China’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea and recognized Philippine sovereign rights in parts of Manila’s exclusive economic zone that are being claimed by China. China has not participated in the case and continues to reject the ruling. Aside from China and the Philippines, the other claimaints to the South China Sea are Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.

"China is committed to being a good neighbor, a good partner and a good friend of the Philippines," he said at an event celebrating China’s 70th founding anniversary. "China is committed to maintaining regional peace and stability with the Philippines,"

“China would like to work together with the Philippines and give full play to existing mechanisms such as the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM) and Joint Coast Guard Committee (JCGC) to properly manage our differences,” Zhao added.

He said China would also “like to make concerted efforts with the Philippines to promote substantial progress of the joint exploration of oil and gas.” The two countries earlier signed an agreement on joint exploration, and Philippine officials said it would cover disputed areas.

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At the same time, the ambassador said China will continue to support the Philippines as country coordinator of China-ASEAN dialogue relations, and hopes that consultations on a code of conduct in the South China Sea could be concluded during the Philippines’ tenure.

On Wednesday, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin, Jr. said China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have agreed on a draft of the Code of Conduct in the disputed South China Sea.

Locsin said this was made possible after Beijing "softened its insistence on controversial provisions" that earlier delayed the passage of the accord, which would outline what countries can and cannot do in contested waters.

"Their objectionable provisions excluding the Western military presence... they're not holding on to that anymore," Locsin said at an event of the Asia Society in New York City.

President Rodrigo Duterte has nurtured friendly ties with China, but many remain critical of the close relations.

Just recently, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Anotnio Carpio said scholars from Palawan should be equipped with proper knowledge on the country's maritime rights before they are sent off to China.

He said this will help the students combat the "indoctrination" they will experience once they go to China for their scholarships. The top court's second highest official said Chinese officials may insist on their false claims in the South China Sea and pass them off as a fact to the students.

Ten Palaweño scholars were sent to China in August for a scholarship grant awarded by the Hainan Normal University.