Xi and Marcos hold talks in Beijing and agree to manage disputes over the South China Sea “by peaceful means.”

China and the Philippines have agreed to set up a direct communication channel on the South China Sea to “peacefully handle” disputes over the disputed waterway, according to a joint statement from the two countries.

The agreement on Thursday came about a day after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing during efforts to mend the relationship strained by Manila’s 2016 decision to seek an arbitral ruling over China’s extensive progress in the South China Sea.

The United Nations tribunal has invalidated China’s claims, but Beijing has rejected the ruling.

Since then, Manila has continued to express concern over reported Chinese construction activity on islands in the South China Sea – as well as the transformation of disputed reefs into artificial islands – and “swarming” through Beijing’s ships in the disputed waters, which are rich in oil, gas and fish resources.

The joint statement Xi and Marcos had a “deep and candid exchange of views on the situation in the South China Sea” on Thursday and “emphasized that maritime issues are not the sum total of relations between the two countries.”

The two leaders also agreed to “manage the differences appropriately by peaceful means”.

Both countries reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace and stability, as well as freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, and are establishing “a direct communication mechanism” between their foreign ministries, the statement said.

Marcos’ three-day trip to Beijing, his first official visit to China as president, comes as the country reemerges after a self-imposed border closure since the start of the pandemic in 2020, which has disrupted trade and damaged the economy.

The Philippine president is the first foreign leader to be hosted by China in 2023, and this “speaks volumes about the close ties” between the two countries, Xi told Marcos, according to China’s official news agency Xinhua.

In a video address released by his office on Wednesday, Marcos said both sides discussed “what we can do to move forward, to avoid possible mistakes, misunderstandings that could create a bigger problem than what we already have.”

Marcos also said he was advocating for Philippine fishermen who have been denied access to their traditional areas of operations by the Chinese Navy and Coast Guard.

“The president promised that we would compromise and find a solution that is beneficial so that our fishermen can fish in their natural fishing grounds again,” he said.

The joint statement added that the coast guards of China and the Philippines would meet “as soon as possible” to discuss “pragmatic cooperation”, and that the two countries will hold an annual dialogue on security.

It said both sides also agreed to resume talks on oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea and discussed cooperation in areas such as solar energy, wind energy, electric vehicles and nuclear energy.

On the economic front, China agreed to import more goods from the Philippines with the aim of returning bilateral trade to or surpassing pre-pandemic levels. The two sides are finalizing rules for importing fruit from the Philippines, which Marcos said would balance the trade.

Both sides also pledged to increase the number of tourists and flights between both capitals, the statement said. Last year, only about 9,500 Chinese visited the Philippines, up from about 1.6 million before the pandemic.

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By wy9m6

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