Manila/San Francisco, US.- The presidents of China and the Philippines, Xi Jinping and Ferdinand Marcos Jr., have met in San Francisco to seek ways to reduce tension over the territories they dispute in the South China Sea.
President Xi Jinping attends the APEC Economic Leaders’ Retreat, during the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference at the Moscone West Convention Center in San Francisco, California, USA, 17 November 2023. EFE-EPA FILE/JOHN G. MABANGLO
“We tried to come up with mechanisms to lower the tensions in the South China Sea. That’s essentially the message that we spoke of to each other,” said Marcos Jr. at the end of the meeting, which took place on Friday, US time, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, according to the state Philippine News Agency.
Their meeting takes place at the height of bilateral tensions. The Philippines last Friday accused a Chinese coast guard ship of firing a water cannon at a boat carrying supplies to Filipino soldiers on an island in disputed waters in the South China Sea.
The incident also occurred two weeks after the Philippines summoned the Chinese ambassador in Manila due to the escalation of tension over a collision between vessels from both countries after a maneuver that Manila called “provocative, irresponsible and illegal” in the same area.
China, for its part, considered the incident a “provocation” by the Philippines.
Marcos Jr. was optimistic that both countries will find ways to avoid similar incidents in the future, as well as “move forward from this situation.”
“Nonetheless, the problems remain. It’s something that we will need to continue to communicate to find ways to avoid such incidents,” he added, referring in particular to the rights of Filipino fishermen in disputed waters where he accuses Beijing of preventing them from fishing.
China and the Philippines maintain disputes over the sovereignty of several islands and atolls in the South China Sea, which Beijing claims almost entirely, although the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 agreed with Manila.
Relations between China and the Philippines have deteriorated since last year’s rise to power of Marcos Jr. – son of the late dictator of the same name. He has strengthened military ties with the US, in contrast to the turn towards Beijing undertaken by his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.
US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reiterated this week in a meeting in Jakarta with his Philippine counterpart Gilbert Teodoro his country’s ironclad commitment to the defense of the Philippines with which it has a mutual defense treaty.
Marcos Jr. also met with US Vice President Kamala Harris on the sidelines of APEC. EFE