PRESIDENT Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping have committed to establish a “direct communication mechanism” to prevent possible miscommunication on issues concerning the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

In a joint statement during Marcos’ last day of his state visit to China, the two leaders said the communication line would be opened between the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office of the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.

The agreement was signed Wednesday, January 4, 2023, alongside 13 other bilateral deals on a wide range of cooperation that includes agriculture, infrastructure, development cooperation, maritime security, and tourism, among others.

This came after Marcos brought up the plight of Filipino fishermen in the WPS to Xi.

He said Xi agreed to “find a solution” and compromise to protect the livelihood of Filipino fishermen and avoid any misunderstanding.

“On the political front, we also discussed what we can do to move forward to avoid any possible mistakes, misunderstandings that could trigger a bigger problem than what we already have,” Marcos said.

“And the President [Xi] promised that we would find a compromise and find a solution that will be beneficial so that our fishermen might be able to fish again in their natural fishing grounds,” he added.

The two leaders said that having a direct communication mechanism would contribute to improving mutual trust between the two countries and reaffirmed the importance of the Foreign Ministry and Consultations and the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the WPS.

Marcos and Xi reiterated the importance of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) in safeguarding peace and stability in disputed territorial waters.

The DOC, signed by China and the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) member states in 2002, states that all parties would exercise self-restraint from conducting activities that complicate or heighten tension and affect peace in the region, including “refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features” in the South China Sea.

The Philippine government has filed numerous protests against China over numerous harassment incidents involving Filipino fishermen as well as soldiers in the disputed waters off WPS (South China Sea).

China has repeatedly refused to recognize the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands, which invalidates their claims within the sea areas falling within the nine-dash line that is over 90 percent of the West Philippine Sea and affirmed the traditional and legitimate fishing rights of Filipino fishermen in the area.

The latest incident was when Chinese Coast Guards reportedly retrieved in a forceful manner a wreckage of the fairing of a rocket recently launched by China, which was recovered by Filipino troops off Pagasa Island.

Chinese authorities, however, denied the claims saying that the Philippine military personnel returned the floating object to the Chinese Coast Guard after a “friendly consultation.” (SunStar Philippines)