First meeting

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THE journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so it’s said, and the two sides in the territorial dispute in the South China Sea will be taking the first step when they meet for the first time in China.

The dispute is a contentious one, with China insisting on ownership of practically the whole of the vital sealane on the basis of what has been called the “nine-dash line”, and the Philippines banking on the UN-backed arbitral tribunal’s recent ruling on the country’s sovereign rights over some islands in the SCS and its claim of an Exclusive Economic Zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).

According to Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana, the meeting of the Bilateral Consultative Mechanism (BCM) will “discuss areas where we have differences and try to understand each other’s position and to explore ways of managing it or further easing the tensions in the South China Sea in order to prevent escalation or any possible confrontation or conflict or misunderstanding.”

The BCM, he explained, will be a venue to increase mutual trust and confidence and to find possible areas of cooperation.

The scope of the talks tells us that the talks won’t be brief at all, but could take time to finish.

But our hope is that with the improving ties between the two countries ever since President Duterte visited China in October last year, the dispute could be settled in a peaceful way and to our mutual advantage, even if it takes a long time.

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