By Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA (Reuters) -The Philippines and China pledged on Saturday to work together to resolve their maritime differences in the South China Sea, where the two have competing claims, and to deepen bilateral ties.
Talks between the countries’ foreign ministers mark the latest in a series of high-level meetings of the Philippines with leaders of the United States and China as the two superpowers battle for strategic advantage in the Indo-Pacific.
Manila’s relations with Beijing are more than just their differences over the South China Sea, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said as he began talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang in Manila.
“These differences should not prevent us from seeking ways of managing them effectively, especially with respect to the enjoyment of rights of Filipinos, especially fishermen,” Manalo said, adding that their livelihoods are undermined by incidents and actions in the waterway.
Since Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr took office in June, the Philippines has filed dozens of diplomatic protests at the presence of Chinese fishing vessels and what it calls China’s “aggressive actions” in the strategic waterway.
The two neighbours need to work together to continue a tradition of friendship, deepen cooperation and properly resolve differences, Qin said in his opening remarks.
Working together would help promote peace and stability in the region and the world, Qin said.
His visit comes just weeks after the Philippines announced the location of four additional U.S. military bases, two of which are facing north towards Taiwan.
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Qin is to meet Marcos later on Saturday, ahead of the president’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington in May.
More than 17,000 Philippine and U.S. soldiers are conducting their largest-ever joint military drills in the Southeast Asian country, drawing criticism from Beijing, Manila’s rival in the South China Sea.
A landmark ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2016 invalidated China’s claims of sovereignty over almost all of the South China Sea, which sees the passage of about $3 trillion (E54 trillion) worth of ship-borne goods annually and is believed to be rich in minerals and oil-and-gas deposits.
Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines have competing claims in portions of the waterway.