Bongbong Marcos meets Chinese foreign minister to boost PH-China ties amid sea row

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 6) — President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. met on Wednesday with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral ties amid the two countries' simmering territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

Wang met with the new Philippine leader at Malacañan Palace a day after arriving in the country. Also present at the meeting were Wang’s Philippine counterpart Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Enrique Manalo and Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian.

In a tweet, Marcos said he and Wang touched on various areas of cooperation, including agriculture, infrastructure, and energy.

He added they committed to “maintaining the strong relationship between our peoples in the coming years.”

It is not yet clear if the two officials discussed the countries’ sea dispute, although Marcos said a day earlier that he hopes to talk about ways to resolve existing conflicts with Beijing.

China continues to assert its sweeping claims over the resource-rich South China Sea, which includes the West Philippine Sea. This is despite a 2016 ruling of an arbitral tribunal in The Hague which invalidated Beijing's historic claims and recognized Manila's sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone that China contests.

Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam also have overlapping claims in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway where trillions of dollars worth of international trade pass through.

Like his predecessor former President Rodrigo Duterte who fostered warmer ties with China, Marcos earlier said he prefers holding bilateral talks with the Asian power on the issue.

However, Marcos had also vowed to assert the Hague ruling and talk to China "consistently with a firm voice" regarding the dispute. 

After his engagement with Marcos, Wang then met with Vice President Sara Duterte.

Later that afternoon, the minister flew to Indonesia for another official visit.

‘New golden era’ for PH-China relation

Hours before visiting Malacañan, Wang had a separate meeting with Manalo at the DFA headquarters in Pasay City.

They discussed maintaining and building on the positive trend of relations between the two countries, with Wang saying Beijing commits to work with Manila to further deepen bilateral ties.

“We are willing to work toward that same direction with the Philippines… We can surely open up a new golden era for the bilateral relationship,” Wang said.

The Chinese official also noted that with Marcos’ election, the “China-Philippine relationship has turned a new page.”

"We highly appreciate President Marcos' recent commitment to pursuing friendly policy toward China and we speak highly of his recent statements that have sent out a very positive signal to the outside world," he said, adding that it meant China, as the Philippines' close neighbor, is the latter's strongest partner.

Manalo talked about how the security situation between the two countries has become more complex due to changing political, economic and socio-cultural landscapes.

Still, China has been the Philippines' dependable partner in its pandemic recovery efforts.

"China has been a good friend and close partner of the Philippines in our recovery efforts, and we have stood shoulder to shoulder in times of great difficulty, helping one another so that we may both bring progress to our respective nations," said Manalo.

Both officials also unveiled the commemorative plaque and scale model of the Samal-Island-Davao City Connector Project, a flagship project under the Duterte administration's Build, Build, Build program worth approximately $400 million (around ₱22.266 billion.)

They also witnessed the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding on Providing Financial Services to Promote Cooperation between the Stock Exchanges of the Philippines and China. The pact will promote bilateral investment and trade through capital market linkages between both countries.

This was signed by Philippine Stock Exchange, Inc. President & CEO Ramon Monzon and Bank of China (Hong Kong) Manila Country Head Deng Jun.

Wang's last official visit to the Philippines was on January 15-16, 2021 upon the invitation of former Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr.