MANILA — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian in Malacañang on the day the former's security adviser visited a Philippines-occupied island in the West Philippine Sea and which China continues to claim as theirs.
Photos shared by Marcos and Huang on their respective social media accounts indicated that the latter's courtesy call on the Philippine leader happened Wednesday.
“We are very grateful for the visit, and we look forward to further strengthening the relationship between China and the Philippines for the benefit of both our peoples,” said Marcos.
In his Facebook post, Huang said he "exchanged views" with Marcos on also boosting their countries' ties.
"I’m fully confident that under the strategic guidance of President Xi Jinping and President Marcos, China-Philippines relationship will further grow and achieve more benefits in the years to come," the envoy said.
Malacañang has yet to provide more details about the meeting.
The meeting happened on the day National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos traveled to Pag-asa Island which is part of the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea and which Beijing calls as Zhongye Dao.
Known internationally as Thitu Island, Pag-asa is located some 285 miles west of mainland Palawan and is the seat of government of Kalayaan, a Palawan municipality created in 1978. Manila calls its claimed part of the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea.
The maritime disputes in the South China Sea has been feared to be a dangerous flashpoint not only among China and other claimants, including the Philippines, but also other members of the International community that have a stake in the international waterway and in the region.
China has been the most aggressive among the claimants, reclaiming features in the area and fortifying them with military installations, driving away fishermen and troops of other nations, and protesting visits of ranking Philippine officials in Manila-occupied features.
It continues to disregard a landmark ruling in 2016 by an arbitration court, invalidating the historical basis of its claims over almost the entire South China Sea.
Carlos' 5-hour visit in Pag-asa Island, and participation in the aerial patrol over those waters before and after that visit on Wednesday "is very important that she will see for herself (the situation there) as the NSA," said Maj. Cherryl Tindog, spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command.
Carlos thanked the troops “for their efforts in protecting what is ours there", Tindog told reporters.
Weeks after winning the May 9 elections, Marcos said he will assert the Philippines' claim in the West Philippine Sea while continuing to pursue bilateral contact with China.
"Nasa atin na yung arbitral ruling so we have a very important ruling in our favor. We will use it," he said then.
"It's not a claim, it's already a right," he added.
While the Philippines commits to "maintaining good relations with the rest of the world", Marcos said during his first State of the Nation Address last month that "he will not preside over any process that will abandon even a square inch of territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power."
Also last month, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said Marcos accepted China's invitation to visit Beijing but did not say when this would be possible.
This came after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's official visit to the country that month, during which Marcos stressed the need to "find ways to work to resolve the conflicts that we have" with the Asian power.
— Job Manahan and Pia Gutierrez, ABS-CBN News