President Rodrigo Roa Duterte disembarks from a plane upon his arrival at the Beijing Capital International Airport in the People’s Republic of China on August 28, 2019. | ACE MORANDANTE / PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said President Duterte had made it clear it was time — after exerting a lot of diplomatic capital to build a reservoir of goodwill and friendship after meeting for at least seven times — to talk about contentious issues surrounding Philippines-China relations.

Speaking to Filipino journalists covering the president’s trip to China, Ambassador Sta. Romana said these issues might have caused misunderstanding “if brought up in the past.”

He said one of the sensitive issues was the South China Sea arbitration award won by Manila in 2016.

“We have no illusion that we can solve the issue overnight.  I think the important thing is to bring it to the fore of the diplomatic agenda,” the former newsman and Beijing resident for over four decades said.

He also mentioned oil and gas cooperation as well as the proposed Code of Conduct on the South China Sea.  Other issues up for discussion are cooperation in the economic and infrastructure areas as well as the security cluster.

“I think the President is very much interested to move forward on the MOU (memorandum of understanding) on oil and gas cooperation that was signed last November, as the MOU provides a road map for moving forward,” he added.

The two sides will discuss the need to form a joint steering committee and working committees, as well as joint entrepreneurial working committees “composed of the companies that will actually be engaged in the cooperation.”  

“The basic approach is to manage the differences peacefully, diplomatically through high-level summits, through a bilateral consultancy mechanism and to move forward on areas of cooperation so as to propel forward and to maintain the positive trajectory of Philippines-China relations,” Sta. Romana said.  (Melo M. Acuña)