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South China Sea should not block regional cooperation

China Daily | Updated: 2017-05-03 07:29

A Chinese naval fleet completed a three-day visit to the Philippines on Monday. The first such visit in seven years provides the latest proof of the two countries' resolve to continuously expand bilateral interaction and deepen political mutual trust.

After paying a visit to the Chinese warship docked in his hometown of Davao City, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said he is open to the idea of conducting joint military exercises with China. This trust-building gesture is just one of the many examples set by the Philippine leader in his efforts to improve ties with China.

Since taking office in July, Duterte has been seeking to dispel the bad blood in bilateral ties and to usher in a cordial atmosphere so both countries can put behind them their skirmishes over maritime disputes, which were exacerbated during the tenure of his predecessor Benigno Aquino III, and advance their cooperation in a wide range of fields.

Thanks to the efforts of both sides, the relationship between Beijing and Manila is in a much better shape now, and tensions in their South China Sea disputes have subsequently abated.

As this year's chair of the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Philippines, under Duterte, has also played a constructive role in pushing for greater consensus among the members of the bloc to resolve the South China Sea disputes through peaceful negotiations.

The ASEAN summit statement delivered by Duterte on Sunday did not include strong wording about the South China Sea issue, which marked a major departure from the provocative attitudes and deeds of the previous Philippine government.

Beijing and Manila have also agreed to establish two-way consultation on the South China Sea issue. Their first bilateral meeting is scheduled for this month, and diplomats from both countries will discuss issues of common concern and the promotion of maritime and security cooperation.

Meanwhile, China and ASEAN are working hard to complete the drafting of a framework for the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea by midyear. At this important juncture, it would be counterproductive for any party to act in an irresponsible way.

Even with the rosier picture for bilateral ties, it is not surprising that there are still some differences between the two countries. Last month, remarks by the Philippine side on disputed isles in the South China Sea caused unnecessary concern.

Greater communication and engagement would bridge the differences and enable both sides to cherish the hard-won fruits in bilateral ties and pursue more.

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