Maritime issues between the
Philippines and China remain a “serious concern”, a Philippine
official has said, as the countries pledged to use
diplomacy to resolve differences peacefully during high-level
“Both our countries’ leaders agreed that maritime issues should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue and never through coercion and intimidation,” Philippine foreign ministry undersecretary Theresa Lazaro said on Friday at the opening of bilateral talks on the South China Sea.
The Philippines hosted the first in-person meeting
between diplomats from the countries since before the Covid-19
pandemic, amid a flare-up in tensions over what Manila described
as China’s “aggressive activities” in the South China Sea.
The discussions come two months after President Ferdinand
Marcos Jr’s state visit to China, where President Xi Jinping
said he was ready to manage maritime issues “cordially” with
“Maritime issues are an important part of China-Philippines
relations that should not be ignored,” China’s Vice Foreign
Minister Sun Weidong said.
“In the past years, through friendly dialogue and
consultations, the two countries have generally managed and
effectively dealt with our differences on maritime issues. And
we have also advanced our practical cooperation and our mutual
trust,” added Sun, who is on a three-day visit to Manila.
Concern over US military presence
Beijing, which claims large parts of the South China Sea,
including some areas in Philippine waters, has expressed concern
over an increasing US military presence in its neighbour,
accusing Washington of increasing regional tensions.
Last month, Marcos granted the United States expanded access
to military bases, amid China’s growing assertiveness in the
South China Sea and towards self-ruled Taiwan.
The agreement has been seen as a sign of a rekindling of
ties between Manila and its former colonial master, which soured
under his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.
Marcos, the son of the late strongman whom Washington helped
flee into exile during a 1986 “people power” uprising, has
repeatedly said he could not see a future for his country
without the United States.
Last month, the Philippines accused China’s coast guard of
using a laser against one of its vessels supporting a resupply
mission for troops in the disputed Spratly islands. Marcos later
summoned the Chinese ambassador to relay his concern over the
intensity and frequency of China’s activities in the area.
Maritime differences with Beijing were a “serious concern” but could be resolved through the “exhaustion of all diplomatic means”, Lazaro said.
READ MORE: The South China Sea dispute explained