MANILA, March 24 (Reuters) – Maritime issues between the Philippines and China remain a “serious concern”, a Philippine official said on Friday, as the countries pledged to use diplomacy to resolve differences peacefully during high-level talks.
The Philippines hosted this week the first in-person meeting between diplomats from the countries since before the pandemic, amid a flare-up in tensions over what Manila described as China’s “aggressive activities” in the South China Sea.
“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 at the opening of bilateral talks on 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 Manila.
“Maritime issues are an important part of China-Philippines relations that should not be ignored,” China’s Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong said.
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.
“The two sides agreed to manage and control differences and properly handle emergencies at sea through friendly consultations,” the Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement after Sun’s visit.
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.
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.
(Reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales; Additional reporting by Ryan Woo in Beijing; Editing by Ed Davies and Jonathan Oatis)