By Daniel Llanto

In a bilateral meeting between Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Yunnan, China pointedly asked the Philippines to “shelf” the West Philippine Sea dispute, specifically the Hague arbitral award won by the Philippines in 2016.

China made it known however that it wants an “oasis of peace” in Southeast Asia and anchors its hopes on achieving this by being “permanent” friends with the Philippines and continuing to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Wan told Locsin that the two countries should “shelf” the disputes to avoid affecting the hard-won momentum of improvement and development of bilateral relations.

The Arbitral Award the Philippines won on July 12, 2016 has been shelved by the Duterte administration, resulting in more unlawful acts of intimidation, and bullying by Beijing in the South China Sea.

The statement was issued as China received Locsin and his entourage in Tengchong City, Yunnan, for an official visit upon the invitation of Wang, also Chinese State Councilor.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said the two foreign ministers held a bilateral meeting recently to take stock of priority political and economic bilateral cooperation initiatives.

At the meeting, Wang stressed that the Philippines and China must stay “permanent” friends regardless of any changes in the international situation and “shelf” the South China Sea dispute.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said China wants to “make this region an oasis of peace and a promising land of development and provide greater stability and inject more positive energy to regional and global development.”

“China hopes and believes that, as members of the Asian family, ASEAN countries will continue to work with China to firmly uphold multi-lateralism and international justice, (and) safeguard regional peace and stability,” Hua added.

The DFA said both sides re-affirmed the continuing vitality of relations despite the constraints imposed by COVID-19, and pledged to forge ahead with sustained policy dialogues, economic and infrastructure cooperation projects.

Wang affirmed China’s commitment to supporting President Duterte’s infrastructure program under the flagship “Build, Build, Build” blueprint.

A Xinhua report said Wang told Locsin that China will continue to support the Philippines in its fight against the pandemic until the final victory, as well as providing any necessary anti-coronavirus resources and sharing experience in fighting the pandemic.

The China Global Television Network (CGTN) also reported that Wang said during the meeting with Locsin that China and the Philippines are close neighbors and that staying permanent good friends fully conforms to the two peoples’ fundamental interests and hopes.

The CGTN report said the Chinese minister hoped that Manila and Beijing would continue to manage differences through dialogue and cooperation, noting the two sides have accumulated “useful” experience in properly handling the South China Sea issue.

The DFA said the two foreign ministers also engaged in a candid and in-depth exchange on regional security concerns, including issues of mutual interest in the context of ASEAN-China relations in which the Philippines acts as coordinator, and in broader multilateral fora.

At the meeting’s close, Locsin and his counterpart confirmed the establishment of a Fast Lane for Urgently Needed Personnel Exchanges between the Philippines and China to facilitate, with due safeguards, the movement of essential official exchanges and travel by personnel in crucial industries such as business and trade, infrastructure, logistics, production, and technical services.