Xi Jin Ping wants ‘friendly’ approach to China-Phl sea dispute

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. expressed elation Thursday after concluding a bilateral meeting with President Xi Jinping in Thailand, his first meeting with the Chinese leader. ‘It’s the first time that I’ve met President Xi Jinping and I was very happy that we were able to have this opportunity here in the APEC Meeting in Bangkok to have a bilateral meeting,’ Marcos said. | Photograph courtesy of Office of the Press Secretary

BANGKOK, Thailand — The maritime dispute between China and the Philippines must be dealt with in a “friendly” manner, Chinese President Xi Jinping asserted during his first bilateral meeting with Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. here.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila on Friday confirmed in a statement that Xi and Marcos were able to articulate their respective positions on the decades-long dispute over the swaths of the South China Sea among five countries, including the Philippines and China.

“Elated” was how the Office of the Press Secretary described the Philippine leader upon meeting for the first time the Chinese President on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit 2022 in the Thai capital on Thursday afternoon.

The two leaders’ meeting, held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, was “cordial” and ended positively, OPS officer-in-charge Cheloy Garafil, who was present at the meeting, told the Daily Tribune via text message.

The embassy said Xi argued that the “two sides must stick to friendly consultation and handle differences and disputes properly” in connection with the SCS issue.

For his part, Marcos reasserted his stance that the Philippine-China relationship must not be predominantly defined by long-standing maritime issues but by its efforts in building a more robust and stronger bilateral relationship.

The embassy added that Marcos expressed the Philippine government’s continued adherence to the “One China policy, uphold the principle of peace, stay committed to an independent foreign policy, and will not take sides.”

The Philippine leader, moreover, indicated his government’s readiness to start talks over joint energy exploration between China and the Philippines in the SCS.

Strategic height

The Chinese government views its ties with the Philippines from a strategic height, the embassy said, noting that Xi and Marcos already “reached a series of important consensus on growing bilateral ties in the new era and identified agriculture, infrastructure, energy and people-to-people exchanges as four priority areas of cooperation.”

Xi indicated China’s commitment to carrying forward its friendship and cooperation with the Philippines toward national development and economic revitalization.

He particularly mentioned the two countries’ collaboration on the Belt and Road Initiative and the Philippines’ “Build, Build, Build” program, the Davao-Samal Bridge project, “Two Countries, Twin Parks,” as well as strengthening cooperation on clean energy, education, and public health.

For the Chinese president, enhancing the cooperation between the two nations would help in the writing of a “new chapter in the China-Philippines friendship.”

As he expressed his government’s commitment to import quality agricultural and sideline products from the Philippines, Xi also urged Marcos to “take more concrete steps to increase people-to-people and cultural exchanges” in a bid to gain public support for China-Philippines friendship.

“Noting that China and the Philippines, as two developing countries in Asia, need to keep strategic independence, uphold peace, openness and inclusiveness, and stay the course of regional cooperation, Xi said the two countries should work together to reject unilateralism and acts of bullying, defend fairness and justice, and safeguard peace and stability in the region,” the embassy said.

Tremendous growth

“There has been tremendous growth in exchanges and cooperation in agriculture, infrastructure, energy, and people-to-people ties between the two countries,” Marcos told Xi.

The Philippine president expressed his gratitude to Xi for China’s donation of 20,000 tons of urea fertilizers.

He also said that Covid-19 cooperation helped strengthen trust, with China being the first to donate Covid-19 vaccines to the country.

Both leaders agreed to consider pursuing more infrastructure projects.

Citing the Davao-Samal bridge project in Davao as a prime example of an infrastructure partnership, Xi thanked Marcos for personally attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the bridge project.

The Chinese President said that China was open to increasing the importation of quality agricultural produce from the Philippines, highlighting the planned entry of durian from the Philippines to the Chinese market.

Marcos also personally accepted the invitation from Xi for a state visit to China in early January next year.

Both leaders agreed that maritime issues do not define the totality of Philippines-China relations, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The two leaders also reaffirmed their support for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct on the SCS to help manage differences and regional tensions.

“Our foreign policy refuses to fall into the trap of a Cold War mindset. Ours is an independent foreign policy guided by our national interest and commitment to peace,” Marcos said.

During his intervention at the 29th Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Economic Leaders’ Meeting Retreat Session, Marcos lamented the environmental challenges brought about by globalization.

“How economies respond is critical in determining the fate of the planet we live on and will pass on to our future generations,” Marcos told world leaders.

Work together

The Philippine leader called on his counterparts in APEC to work together towards achieving economic and social stability to ensure inclusive and sustainable growth amid an apparent downturn of the world economy and risks of recessions.

Moreover, the President called for the adoption of policies that promote a green post-pandemic recovery as the world emerges from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

“My dear colleagues, as the world emerges from the downturn caused by the pandemic, it is evident that recovery has been uneven — perhaps even I would go so far to say it has been inequitable and insufficiently supportive of a green transition. Economies must leverage this opportunity to recalibrate policies to promote a green post-pandemic recovery,” he said.

“It is for these reasons that the Philippines welcomes and supports the adoption of the Bangkok Goals on the Bio-Circular-Green Economy, which is a concrete initiative that will lead the Asia-Pacific region towards a sustainable future,” he added.

In his intervention during the 29th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting Retreat Session, he called on his fellow leaders to assist micro, small and medium enterprises in participating in the digital economy.

“However, they continue to face systemic problems and structural challenges heightened by the pandemic. MSMEs need opportunities and assistance to recover, grow and progress in the post-pandemic and digital age,” Marcos told the economic leaders present at the event held in the Queen Sirikit National Convention Center.

Marcos emphasized that the revitalization of MSMEs is one of his administration’s top priorities, as he noted their role as catalysts for economic regeneration, job creation, and poverty reduction.

CEO Summit

On Thursday, 17, Marcos spoke to APEC leaders and the APEC Business Advisory Council. Marcos started by thanking their hosts including ABAC Thailand for organizing the first face-to-face APEC CEO Summit in over three years.

Since the start of the week, ABAC members have engaged in insightful discussions on how to best promote sustainable and inclusive regional growth. Aboitiz Group President and CEO Sabin Aboitiz attended as an ABAC PH member and its Regional Economic Integration Working Group Co-Chair/Lead for Services. This is ahead of the ABAC Dialogue with Leaders happening on Friday, 18 November.

“As Member-economies of APEC, we have a great responsibility to continue nurturing this potential and to continue responding to immediate and imminent challenges. After all, the economic miracles of the past four decades were performed by the economies of the Asia-Pacific, and APEC has been nothing less than a driving force of global economic growth,” Marcos said.

On his second day here, Marcos and First Lady Liza Marcos joined economic leaders at the APEC gala dinner aside from attending meetings of the significant event.

The dinner was hosted by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha of the Kingdom of Thailand.

At the gala, economic leaders from the Asia-Pacific region were treated to the best of Thai culture and cuisine.

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