Don’t let South China Sea disputes strain ties, China tells new Philippine government

Teddy Ng and Liu Zhen, South China Morning Post

Posted at Jul 07 2022 11:34 PM

China tells PH cooperation between nations goes beyond maritime differences

On July 6, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, meets Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, center, at Malacañang Palace in Manila. AFP Photo/Philippines’ Presidential Photographers Division
On July 6, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, meets Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos, center, at Malacañang Palace in Manila. AFP Photo/Philippines’ Presidential Photographers Division

China is calling on the new Philippine government not to let South China Sea disputes come between the two nations, as Manila faces an increasing rivalry between Washington and Beijing in the region.

In his first meeting with Philippine President Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jnr in Manila late on Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said no dispute should affect China-Philippines ties, which he said had “historical significance”.

“The cooperation between the Philippines and China goes far beyond maritime differences,” Wang was quoted as saying in a Chinese foreign ministry statement.

“Differences cannot be allowed to define the relationship between the two countries, and individual disputes cannot be allowed to interfere with the cooperation between the two countries.”

Wang said cooperation between the two nations would be improved, creating a new “golden era” for bilateral relations.

“China firmly supports the smooth governance of the new Philippine government, and is willing to cooperate with the Philippine side in the four key areas of agriculture, infrastructure, energy, and humanities, to help the Philippines accelerate its development and revitalisation, and create more benefits for the Philippine people.”

There was no word from the Philippine government on whether they discussed South China Sea disputes. In a tweet after the talks, Marcos said the two “discussed agriculture, infrastructure, energy, and our commitment to maintaining the strong relationship between our peoples in the coming years”.

Disputes over the South China Sea have been a source of diplomatic tension between the two neighbours. China claims historical sovereignty over most of the resource-rich waterway, but at least five nations, including the Philippines, dispute those claims. In 2016, Manila won a Hague-based tribunal ruling in its favour but Beijing does not recognise it.

Wang’s visit came less than a week after Chinese Vice-President Wang Qishan attended the inauguration of Marcos, and held meetings with him as well as outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte and his daughter Sara, the new vice-president of the Philippines.

Increasing geopolitical rivalry between the US and China has left regional nations facing a tricky balancing act.

On Tuesday, Marcos said he was open to military exchanges with China. His nation’s links with China should be strengthened and were not limited to the disputed sea, Marcos added.

“Let’s add to that: let’s have cultural exchanges, educational exchanges, even military, if that will be useful,” the Philippine leader said.

Marcos had earlier said he planned to negotiate a deal with China to resolve the dispute, while also planning to uphold Philippine sovereignty as well as its military alliance with the US.

Wang also met Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo and national security adviser Clarita Carlos during his trip on Wednesday.

Wang told Carlos his trip was intended to reflect the importance Beijing attached to the China-Philippines relations.

He pledged China would never “follow the old path of colonisation and plunder by the old major powers” and said China would adhere to peaceful development, cooperation and the sharing of development opportunities with its neighbours.

“China and the Philippines are neighbours who cannot move away. Our only choice is to be friendly, friendly and more friendly,” Wang said.

“In the face of the current international and regional situation, which is full of uncertainty and instability, the two sides should carry on the tradition of friendship and make China-Philippines relations more solid and resilient.”

Wang’s tour of Southeast Asia comes as the US seeks to boost its influence in the region through its Indo-Pacific strategy. During his visits to Myanmar and Thailand, Wang met local leaders as well as counterparts from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam when he chaired the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation foreign ministers’ meeting in the Myanmese city of Bagan on Monday.


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