By Neil Jerome Morales
MANILA, Nov 18 (Reuters) – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr met with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday, seeking ways to come up with ways to reduce tensions in the South China Sea and restore Filipino fishermen’s access to fishing grounds.
The Philippines and China need to continue to communicate, with the meeting a key part of the process to maintain peace, and keep open sea lanes and airways over the South China Sea, Marcos told reporters on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in San Francisco.
“We tried to come up with mechanisms to lower the tensions in the South China Sea,” Marcos said, without elaborating.
Marcos said he voiced concern over incidents between Chinese and Philippine vessels, including one collision. He said he also raised the plight of Filipino fishermen.
“I asked that we go back to the situation where both Chinese and Filipino fishermen were fishing together in these waters,” he said.
Filipino fishermen have complained that Chinese coastguard and maritime militia ships are preventing them from fishing in parts of the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Marcos said he and Xi were in agreement that geopolitical problems should not be the defining element of the two countries’ relationship.
Since taking office in 2022, Marcos has pursued warmer ties with the United States, a treaty ally, in contrast with the pro-Beijing stance of his predecessor.
Marcos granted the United States greater access to its military bases, including in provinces facing the South China Sea and democratically-ruled Taiwan, drawing the ire of Beijing.
Tensions in the region, where China has build man-made islands with missiles and airstrips, have increased this year.
“I do not think anybody wants to go to war,” Marcos said.
China claims almost the entire South China Sea, ignoring a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated Beijing’s expansive claim.
China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Editing by Kim Coghill)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.
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