China on Monday assured President Duterte of its commitment to a “bilateral mechanism” and a code of conduct that would prevent territorial disputes in the South China Sea from erupting into conflict.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua told Mr. Duterte during a meeting in Davao City that China was looking forward to the convening in May of the first meeting of the bilateral mechanism set up to handle the South China Sea disputes, according to presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella.
“Through this bilateral mechanism, mutual trust and maritime cooperation will be forged and misunderstandings will be avoided,” Abella said.
Zhao also said China would cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) toward the conclusion of a code of conduct in the South China Sea.
The Philippines, as this year’s Asean chair, is pushing for the completion of the framework for the proposed code of conduct.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, but the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan have competing claims in the strategic waterway through which $5 trillion in global trade passes every year.
The UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled last year in a case brought by the Philippines, invalidating China’s claim and declaring that Beijing had violated Manila’s rights to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
But Mr. Duterte, after winning presidential election last year, upended Philippine foreign policy by deferring assertion of the tribunal’s ruling, steering the country away from the United States, and making overtures to China and Russia.