Opinion | South China Sea: Despite standoffs, Beijing and Manila must continue to engage in dialogue

In September, the Philippine Coast Guard A floating barrier was removed Chinese coast guards set up a barrier at Scarborough Shoal blocking access to Filipino fishermen. In November and December, Manila said the Chinese coast guard used water cannons against Philippine supply ships bound for the second Thomas Shoal.
The lack of timely diplomatic intervention allowed the maritime conflict to escalate and poison ties at large. Talking does not solve everything, but not talking can make things worse. The lack of high-level exchange comes amid a legislative research of prior arrangements To calm tensions that had supposedly reached a fever pitch during the Duterte administration, this crucifixion of dispute management, coupled with low mutual trust and the absence of effective direct lines of communication, set the stage for more dangerous clashes.

To prevent the situation from deteriorating further, Philippine Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Maria Teresa Lazaro and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong met in Manila on July 2. They discussed improving maritime communication mechanisms and promoting dialogue among their coast guards, including the possible resumption of a joint coast guard committee created during the Duterte administration.

Philippine Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Maria Teresa Lazaro and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong shake hands during the ninth meeting of the bilateral consultation mechanism in Manila on July 2. Photo: AFP/Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs

The meeting came amid calls for greater diplomacy to avoid conflict. In a rare move, 33 Philippine-Chinese business groups issued a statement in support of de-escalation, urging both governments to “consider paths that safeguard the peace, order and security of both countries and their peoples.” They called for the establishment of a “neutral and diplomatic venue for discussion that upholds mutual respect.”

China remains the Philippines’ largest trading partner and a major investor, but tensions have strained economic ties. Chinese infrastructure investment, tourism and capital flows to the Philippines have declined to the benefit of other Southeast Asian countries. If lost opportunities are not made up for, the Philippines may fall behind in the region in areas where Cooperation with China It’s critic.
It is important to note that the brazen incidents at sea have occurred despite Philippine deterrence. Manila has given the United States military access to four additional sites across the country and allowed Washington to deploy the US military. Typhon medium-range missile system on its territory, including in northern Luzon, near Taiwan. The United States and the Philippines also undertook further joint military exercises in the South China Sea. In the Shangri-La Dialogue In Singapore, Marcos said the death of a Filipino citizen by “an intentional act” would be “very close to what we define as an act of war,” potentially triggering the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.
Chinese research and warships Missiles have been seen in the country’s eastern and southwestern waters during joint exercises with the United States and other partners. Clashes in March and April resulted in injuries to sailors or damage to ships.


Chinese and Philippine ships collide in first incident under Beijing’s new coast guard law

Chinese and Philippine ships collide in first incident under Beijing’s new coast guard law

On June 17, a Filipino sailor on the Second Thomas Shoal lost a thumb in an altercation that broke out when the Chinese coast guard intercepted a Philippine resupply shipment BRP Sierra Madrea stranded warship serving as an outpost in the disputed area. Manila has accused The Chinese side took away damaged equipment worth 60 million pesos (US$1.02 million).
The meeting took place just after China instituted A controversial measure arrest and detain foreigners who “invade” their claimed waters. The prospect of another aggressive episode may have added urgency to the bilateral talks.

The ninth bilateral consultation mechanism also came after not only China but also Russia voiced objections to the deployment of US missiles in the Philippines. After Washington installed Typhon medium-range missile systems in Denmark and the Philippines, Moscow called for the production of more nuclear-capable intermediate-range missiles. Beijing criticised the deployment of the missiles at a meeting between Chinese and US defence chiefs on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue.

U.S. troops prepare a missile during Balikatan, the annual joint military exercises between U.S. and Philippine troops, at a naval base in San Antonio, Zambales province, April 25, 2023. Photo: Reuters
Parallels can be drawn between the reaction to the presence of Typhon missiles in the Philippines and the Cuban missile crisiswhich brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. The Soviet Union’s decision to place nuclear missiles in Cuba was a response to the United States placing Jupiter missiles in Turkey the previous year.

For Cuba, the Soviet missiles were intended to deter a US invasion. Similarly, deterring China was one of the arguments put forward in favour of installing the US missile system in northern Luzon.

Fortunately, negotiations led to Moscow withdrawing its missiles from the island, as well as the United States withdrawing its Jupiter missiles from Italy and Turkey. Despite this progress, Cuba has been subjected to one of the longest embargoes in the world, demonstrating the consequences for countries caught in the competition between great powers.

Manila said the US missiles would be withdrawn by September. It is not known whether the bilateral consultation mechanism played a role in that withdrawal, but any dialogue to manage tensions, stabilise relations and contribute to peace should be welcomed.

Lucio Blanco Pitlo III is a researcher at the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation