MANILA -- Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Friday said the Philippines and China are keen on exploring expanded areas of cooperation during the next bilateral consultative meeting (BCM) in the coming months.

While Beijing and Manila try to resolve contentious issues, including the West Philippine Sea dispute, Cayetano said both states aim to bolster cooperation.

"We're geographically distant. To be fair to the past administration, we are far from each other, that's why there are so many low-lying fruits. Had we been working together in the past, the way forward would've been enhancing an already built partnership." he said in Filipino.

Through BCM, Cayetano believes the two nations will discover new areas of partnership, citing an instance when China offered aid during the Marawi conflict.

"When the Marawi siege happened, I talked to the Chinese, 'Can you guarantee to our President that nothing will happen there while our military is in Marawi?' They said, 'Yes. How else can we help?' I said we need weapons, and they delivered weapons to us. It’s not an act of an enemy," Cayetano said, but was quick to clear that this does not mean Manila is setting aside the existing West Philippine Sea dispute.

"We're not saying that this is in exchange of the (WPS) dispute. But it’s different when it’s an enemy, it’s different when you have a dispute. Some of us have disputes with our neighbors, some of us have disputes with our business partners, some of us have disputes with our family. But it's a different dispute when all of us are angry at each other, and it’s a different (issue) when we talk to solve things. And that's what we want, to hold talks, because it's producing results," he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Earlier, Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta Romana told the Philippine News Agency that the ties linking the two states are knotted on trade, tourism, investment, military, cultural and scientific.

Now, the two countries are working out on the implementing guidelines for the employment of 2,000 Filipino English teachers to China before September, he said.

There are also ongoing negotiations for a possible labor cooperation agreement to facilitate the employment of Filipino household service workers to China, setting up of industrial parks for Chinese investors to the Philippines, the possible involvement of a Chinese firm as the third Philippine telecommunications player, and cooperative projects in science & technology, he added.

Sta Romana said the BCM is expected in August or September.

A year at most

The envoy also noted that the BCM will feature a progress report on the results of a panel study on oil and gas cooperation in the South China Sea.

In a press conference at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Cayetano expressed optimism that this will push through.

Once both sides agree on terms of exploration and once the area involved is found out to be commercially viable, he said the actual oil and gas cooperation will follow.

"Right after the exploration, if we find it commercially viable, the process would be fast. Let's say from the time we agreed how the exploration will go, it will take three to four months, longest six months. After six months, you would already have a result, that's the longest. Possibly, early next year,” he said. (PNA)