By ALFRED GABOT, Editor in Chief
BEIJING/MANILA – China’s President Xi Jinping has affirmed his commitment to work with President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. to strengthen Manila-Beijing relations, vowing to extend assistance to the Philippines in various areas such as in agriculture, energy and infrastructure.
In the bilateral meeting of the two leaders, Xi also vowed to “find a compromise and find a solution” for Filipino fishermen to return to traditional fishing grounds in disputed areas in the South China Sea.
“I was already very clear in trying to talk about the plight of our fishermen and the President promised that we would find a compromise and find a solution that will be beneficial so that our fishermen might be able to fish again in their natural fishing grounds,” Marcos said in a taped video.
“We also discussed what we can do to move forward to avoid any possible mistakes, misunderstandings that could trigger a bigger problem than what we already have,” he said.
Marcos said he also told Xi that the Philippines wants to resume negotiations on the joint oil and gas exploration project in the West Philippine Sea, noting his administration’s push to shift to renewable forms of energy.
Overall, Marcos and Xi vowed to resolve maritime disagreements through consultation amid heightened tensions over the hotly disputed South China Sea and activities like encroachment by Chinese ships at West Philippine Sea .
Marcos and Xi called for “friendly consultation to appropriately resolve maritime issues” at their meeting on Wednesday.
Prior to his state visit to Beijing, Marcos has insisted he will not let China trample on the Philippines’ maritime rights in the area, and aired hopes to address “political security issues of a bilateral and regional nature”.
As reported by Chinese media CCTV, Xi told Marcos that China wished to “contribute more positive energy to regional peace and stability” and “promote cooperation on oil and gas development in non-disputed areas.”
The two countries initially engaged in bilateral discussions to ease tensions, but Manila eventually dragged Beijing to an international arbitration court in The Hague after China reneged on an initial understanding that both sides would pull out all vessels in the disputed area.
In 2016, the arbitration court awarded a victory to the Philippines and invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway where at least 60 percent of sea-borne goods pass through annually.
“I would very much like, as you have suggested, Mr. President, to be able to announce that we are continuing negotiations and that we hope that these negotiations will bear fruit because the pressure upon not only China, not only the Philippines but the rest of the world to move away from the traditional fronts of power,” Marcos told Xi in a bilateral meeting between the two leaders in Beijing.
Talks on the joint exploration of oil and gas between the two countries were “completely terminated” during the term of President Rodrigo R. Duterte due to China’s claim on the disputed territorial waters.
Marcos earlier said he remained hopeful that talks would continue but bared that his administration is also finding other ways to pursue oil exploration should government-to-government discussions fail.
The Philippines and China must maintain their “strong” partnership for their own gain, Marcos Jr. said during his bilateral meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang before he met Xi.
During the meeting held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Marcos told Li that strengthening the special ties between the Philippines and China would enable the two nations to sustain their economic growth and allow them to build good relations with other allied countries.
“It is very important that these partnerships continue to be strong, continue to be encouraged. And I think that will be the way forward to the mutual benefit of our countries,” Marcos said during his meeting with Li, as quoted by the Office of the Press Secretary (OPS).
Marcos described his meeting with Xi as “very fairly detailed.”