9th BCM between PH and China: Diplomacy moving forward

LAST July 2, I was interviewed on the SMNI program “Nightline News,” hosted by MJ and Admar, on many crucial issues related to the country’s dispute with China over the South China Sea. I was asked about the impact of the ongoing tensions between the Philippines and China over the SCS dispute, particularly concerning our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in mainland China, Macau and Hong Kong. I also discussed my views on the 9th Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) between the Philippines and China, which took place on July 2, 2024 in Manila.

Indeed, the escalating disputes between the Philippines and China over the SCS pose risks to the safety and livelihoods of our OFWs in mainland China and Hong Kong. Thus, de-escalating tension in the SCS is crucial for the Philippines and its OFWs in Hong Kong and mainland China through diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations. For one, the uncertainty and potential for the escalation of tension between the Philippines and China over the SCS dispute cause significant psychological stress for OFWs and their families, affecting their overall well-being.

Indeed, de-escalating SCS tension must be actively pursued through diplomatic channels like the BCM. Engaging in continuous dialogue with China can help manage and potentially resolve disputes, ensuring tensions do not escalate to a point where they adversely affect Filipino citizens in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

Strengthening bilateral negotiations through mechanisms like the BCM is crucial. These platforms allow both nations to address issues directly and seek mutually beneficial solutions.

The Philippine government under President Marcos Jr. should remember that the primary responsibility of any government is to protect its citizens, both at home and abroad. By de-escalating tensions in the SCS, the Philippines can ensure the safety and well-being of its OFWs, who are an integral part of the nation’s socioeconomic fabric.

Indeed, de-escalating tension in the SCS through diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations is not merely a strategic necessity but a moral obligation. It directly impacts the lives of countless Filipino citizens working and living in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau. By prioritizing peaceful resolution and regional stability, the Philippines can safeguard the interests and welfare of its people while contributing to the broader goal of regional peace and cooperation.

Positive developments

The 9th BCM on the South China Sea between the Philippines and China was convened in Manila last July 2. Thus far, it has yielded some positive developments

Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong had frank and constructive discussions about the SCS dispute. I think the most important outcome of the talks is the commitment to de-escalate tensions without prejudice to their respective positions. Both sides agreed that continued dialogue based on mutual respect as two equal sovereign states facilitates peace and stability at sea and committed to having the 10th BCM in China sustain the positive momentum of the discussions. Most importantly, both sides agreed to continue discussions to find a mutually acceptable resolution to the dispute.

Another important outcome of the 9th BCM was the commitment to strengthen the bilateral maritime communication mechanism in the South China Sea. The two sides signed the Arrangement on Improving Philippines-China Maritime Communication Mechanisms and agreed to discuss further how to operationalize this mechanism. Likewise, the two sides agreed to continue discussions on maritime cooperation between their respective Coast Guard authorities, including the possible resumption of the Joint Coast Guard Committee (JCGC). Also, the two sides continued discussions on the possibility of convening an academic forum among scientists and academics on marine scientific and technological cooperation.

These are undoubtedly positive, promising and welcome developments not only for both sides but also for the Asean region and the wider Asia Pacific.

Insights

Indeed, the recently concluded BCM meeting between the Philippines and China underscores both nations’ ongoing commitment to dialogue and the peaceful resolution of disputes. This development is significant for several reasons, highlighting the importance of diplomatic engagement and its potential to foster a stable and cooperative regional environment.

Both countries’ participation in the 9th BCM meeting demonstrates a mutual recognition of the importance of sustained dialogue and negotiations over disputes in the SCS. This is crucial to prevent further misunderstandings and mistrust between the two sides and manage disputes diplomatically. The BCM provides an essential platform for open communication, allowing both sides to express their concerns, clarify intentions and explore areas of cooperation, leading to the de-escalation of tensions between the two sides. By committing to the BCM, the Philippines and China are choosing a diplomatic approach to address contentious issues, vital for maintaining peace and stability in the region.

Furthermore, the BCM is an avenue to strengthen the bilateral relations between PH and China. Its function is to help build trust between the two nations, which is essential for any long-term resolution of the SCS disputes.

Undoubtedly, the 9th BCM meeting between the Philippines and China is a testament to both nations’ commitment to dialogue and peaceful dispute resolution. I hope that, on the part of the Philippines, this mechanism will be pursued through and through, and for this, the best way forward is through diplomacy. Strengthening bilateral relations through such mechanisms helps manage conflicts and promotes mutual interests and regional stability. By continuing to engage in constructive and peaceful dialogue and negotiations, the Philippines and China can work toward a future where cooperation and mutual respect prevail, benefiting their citizens, the Asean region and the broader Asia-Pacific.

Conclusion

Again, the greatest achievement of the 9th BCM between China and the Philippines on July 2, 2024, was the mutual agreement to de-escalate tensions in the South China Sea. This commitment was reaffirmed by President Marcos on July 4 when he told the Armed Forces of the Philippines to de-escalate tension in the West Philippines Sea. This commitment followed recent confrontations, including a significant incident at the Ayungin Shoal on June 17, 2024. Indeed, both nations recognized the importance of open and cordial dialogue in managing their disputes and reaffirmed their commitment to peaceful negotiations without compromising their respective positions.

In many ways, the open and candid dialogue underscored the importance of peaceful diplomatic exchanges on sensitive issues. Both sides acknowledged the necessity of understanding each other’s positions and intentions, which is critical for reducing tensions and fostering a cooperative environment. The 9th BCM, no doubt, is a continuation of efforts to manage differences through diplomatic channels rather than confrontational means.‚Äč

The 9th BCM’s positive outcome represents a strategic effort to manage a complex and volatile situation through diplomacy and cooperation. While significant differences remain, the agreement to de-escalate tensions and improve communication mechanisms is a positive step towards a more stable, secure and peaceful South China Sea.

Source: The Manila Times
https://www.manilatimes.net/2024/07/06/opinion/columns/9th-bcm-between-ph-and-china-diplomacy-moving-forward/1955360

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy

Prof. Anna Rosario Malindog-Uy is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development (ISSCAD), Peking University, Beijing, China. She is currently a director and the Vice President for External Affairs of the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI), a think tank based in Manila. She also serves as the political/geopolitical analyst of ACPSSI. Currently, she is a Senior Researcher of the South China Sea Probing Initiative (SCSPI) and a Senior Research Fellow of the Global Governance Institution (GGI). She is also the President of Techperformance Corp, an IT-based company in the Philippines. Prof. Anna Uy taught Political Science, International Relations, Development Studies, European Studies, Southeast Asia, and China Studies. She is a researcher-writer, academic, and consultant on a wide array of issues. She has worked as a consultant with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and other local and international NGOs.