by Xinhua writer Huang Zemin
China and the Philippines announced on Thursday the setting up of an intergovernmental joint steering committee and a working group between relevant enterprises on oil and gas cooperation.
As the latest progress in both sides' joint exploration of oil and gas, the new bodies are expected to promote and guide such cooperation in the future. This advance in maritime cooperation comes as Beijing-Manila ties have seen a steady improvement over the past three years.
Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016, the two sides have been maintaining effective communication on the South China Sea issue. For long, China has advocated the idea of pursuing joint development while shelving disputes, and it has become increasingly popular.
The amity is hard-earned. Bilateral ties once suffered setbacks and hit rock bottom due to the Philippines' unilateral filing of the South China Sea arbitration case against China, which was initiated by then Philippine President Benigno Aquino III.
Under the guidance of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Duterte, the situation in the South China Sea has stabilized and improved. Where there is a will, there is a way. In 2017, the two sides re-established direct talks for the first time in six years to discuss security and trade issues.
For advanced and regular dialogue, China and the Philippines have convened meetings of the bilateral consultation mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea issue since May 2017.
Thanks to efforts by both sides, dark clouds over the South China Sea issue have been clearing. In a joint statement in 2018, for example, the two sides "reaffirm the importance of maintaining and promoting regional peace and stability, freedom of navigation in and over-flight above the South China Sea."
Both sides "noted the significance of the BCM as a platform for pursuing measures to increase mutual trust and confidence," said a statement after the fourth BCM meeting this April.
Understanding and good faith have led to more cooperation. The two close neighbors have been actively seeking to synergize the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and the Philippines' "Build, Build, Build" program, accelerating cooperation in such areas as infrastructure, telecommunications, and energy.
China became the Philippines' largest trading partner in 2017. Last year, Chinese investments into the Philippines reached 930 million U.S. dollars, making China the Southeast Asian country's top foreign investor.
China-Philippine cooperation over the past three years has proved to be win-win and mutually beneficial. Facts have shown that any sensitive issue can be properly settled as long as relevant parties have a will and take such constructive measures as candid dialogue and regular mechanisms.