BEIJING — Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. cited stable relations with China during a visit to Beijing, during which he sought to downplay territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
After being hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, both countries are looking to recoup their investment in bridges and other projects, along with tourism and agriculture.
However, disputes persist over islands and waters in the strategic South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely.
In a video address released by his office on Wednesday, Marcos said the parties discussed “what we can do to move forward, to avoid possible mistakes.” , misunderstandings can cause bigger problems than we already have.”
Marcos said he brought up the case of Filipino fishermen, who have been denied access to their traditional areas of operation by the Chinese navy and coast guard.
“The president has promised that we will find a compromise and find a win-win solution so that our fishermen can fish back in their natural waters,” Marcos said.
A joint statement released on Thursday said Xi and Marcos “exchanged in-depth and frank views on the situation in the South China Sea, emphasizing that maritime issues do not cover the totality of international relations.” relations between the two countries and have agreed to settle it appropriately. manage differences through peaceful means,” according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency.
“Both sides reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability in the region as well as freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea,” the statement added.
Along with a large business delegation, Marcos chaired meetings on Thursday seeking to finalize trade and investment deals. China accounts for 20% of the Philippines’ foreign trade and is also a major source of foreign direct investment.
China’s official Xinhua News Agency said both sides had “agreed to properly handle maritime issues through friendly consultation” and resumed talks on oil and gas exploration.
Xi named agriculture, infrastructure, energy and culture as four key areas of cooperation. He said China is willing to support agricultural and rural development in the Philippines as well as in infrastructure and connectivity projects, Xinhua reported.
Marcos received a commitment from Xi to resolve the Philippines’ trade deficit with China, his office said. The two sides are finalizing the rules for importing fruit from the Philippines, which Marcos said will begin to balance the trade.
The Philippine leader said he also wants Chinese tourists to return after the COVID-19 situation in China subsides. Last year, only about 9,500 Chinese visited the Philippines, down from about 1.6 million before the pandemic.
In comments to the head of China’s ceremonial legislature, Li Zhanshu, Marcos said the two countries “may face different challenges and shocks that we have now begun felt and will continue to feel for the next few years.”
Beijing ignored a 2016 ruling by a court in The Hague issued by the Philippines, nullifying Beijing’s claims to the waterway.
Since then, China has developed the disputed reefs into artificial islands with airstrips for aircraft and other structures so that they now look like military bases out front.
Most recently, a Philippine military commander reported that the Chinese coast guard forcibly seized Chinese missile debris recovered by the Philippine navy in the South China Sea last month. before.
China denies the seizure by force, saying Filipino sailors are willing to hand over the debris. Marcos did not say whether he raised the issue in meetings with Chinese leaders.