Sen. Richard Gordon said on May 24 the virtual sixth Philippine-China Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) last week over the contested West Philippine Sea (WPS), benefits only Beijing and does not serve the interests of the Philippines at all. 

Gordon urged the Duterte administration to bring the WPS issue into a multilateral discussion as “Beijing knows very well that it would lose if it deals with the problem multilaterally.” 

After a long postponement, the Philippines and China on May 21 resumed bilateral talks on the South China Sea amid growing tensions over the critical waterway. 

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the BCM meeting was hosted by the Philippines. It was established by President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in 2016 as a platform for dialogue on the growing bilateral relationship between the two countries. 

The Philippines and China have agreed on the importance of dialogue amid recent tensions triggered by the swarming of Chinese vessels in areas within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. 

DFA said Friday’s meeting was led by Foreign Affairs Acting Undersecretary for Bilateral Relations and ASEAN Affairs Elizabeth Buensuceso and Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Wu Jianghao. 

“The two sides had friendly and candid exchanges on the general situation and specific issues of concern in the South China Sea. There was mutual recognition of the importance of dialogue in easing tensions and understanding each country’s position and intentions in the area,” the agency said. 

“The Philippines reiterated its long-standing call for full respect and adherence to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its authoritative interpretation and application – the final and binding 2016 South China Sea Arbitral Award.” 

But Gordon said: “It is multilateral talks that will help in protecting our interests, not bilateral talks.”

He said the Philippines’ 2016 arbitral victory over China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea would have encouraged other nations to hold multilateral talks.

“That (arbitral award) would have been the basis for our unity. It would have strengthened our and other countries’ resolve to hold multilateral talks because we hold an arbitral decision,” Gordon added. 

China has rejected any multilateral approach to resolve competing claims in the resource-rich South China Sea.

“Experts have been saying for a long time that bilateral talks with China will not help our country because we’re too small compared to them. The standing is not equal,” Gordon pointed out. 

Critics of the government’s policy towards WPS have been pushing for a multilateral approach since 2016, urging the government to work with other countries to effectively stand up against Beijing’s actions in disputed maritime territories.

“We should push for multilateral talks, not only with China and the Philippines but with other countries that share our issue, and have the same concern,” Gordon said.

“I believe that we can equalize the footing if we have allies who share the same concerns,” he added.