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October 19, 2012

China, Philippines Hold Talks After Months of Tensions

by Simone Orendain

Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio and Chinese Vice Minister Fu Ying held talks to try to build stronger bilateral ties. They met formally for the first time in Manila Friday after months of tension over a territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Seeking better relations

The vice minister also visited with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario.

"We’re very happy to see the vice minister and we are looking to see what can be done in order to strengthen relations," he said.

Del Rosario told reporters the two sides are seeking more normal dealings in trade, investments, tourism and other areas after relations soured in April.

That was when the Philippines complained that about a dozen Chinese vessels poached endangered species in waters in the South China Sea that Manila claims. This led to ships facing off near Scarborough Shoal, also known as Huangyan Island, some 230 kilometers west of Zambales province in the Philippines.

Del Rosario says the Philippines indicated what it felt was needed to "normalize the situation" between the two countries.

"I think, bottom line, we’ve agreed to disagree and we will work on trying to find out how we can bring our positions closer," he said.

South China Sea disputes

​​China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have claims to all or parts of the South China Sea. The sea has rich fishing, straddles some heavily traveled shipping lanes and is believed to hold vast oil and gas reserves.

The Philippines stakes its territorial claims on the basis of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, while China bases its claims on centuries-old maps. To resolve the disagreement, the Philippines wants to negotiate a multilateral agreement with input from members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. China rejects that approach, saying it prefers to deal with claimant countries one on one.

Vice Minister Fu also paid a courtesy call to President Benigno Aquino. Fu delivered a message from President Hu Jintao saying that China wants to move relations between the two sides forward.

This week President Aquino said he has seen "a little bettering of the situation" with China compared to where relations were at the height of the standoff. He said he was hopeful that relations would further improve by the time China’s new leadership is expected to be in place next March.