May 30 – China and the Philippines have agreed to exercise restraint in their naval standoff over a disputed island chain in the South China Sea. Philippines Defense Minister Voltaire Gazmin made the announcement after meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Liang Guanglie, during the 6th ASEAN Defense Minsters’ Meeting (ADMM) in Cambodia.
“The reaction of the Chinese defense minister was a welcome gesture, because I sat down with him and talked about the issues concerning both countries. And like I said, we agreed on three points – to restrain our action, to restrain our statements, so that it stops escalating, and then we continue to open lines of communication until we come up with a peaceful solution to the case,” Gazmin said.
The naval standoff between China and the Philippines has been an on-going dispute since the beginning of April. It began when Chinese maritime surveillance vessels blocked Filipino warships from arresting Chinese fisherman near the Scarborough Shoal. Since then, the situation has been tense with both nations having dispatched more vessels to the area and accusing the other of unnecessarily escalating the situation. China has also impounded Filipino banana shipments, and warned its citizens about touring the Philippines.
The recent developments during the ADMM, however, may signal an initial cessation of hostilities between the two nations. During the ADMM on Tuesday, defense ministers from the 10-member ASEAN signed a joint declaration reaffirming their commitment to enhancing regional peace and security. Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie, who is on an official visit to Cambodia, is set to meet with his other ASEAN counterparts for informal discussions about the maritime dispute.