Marcos Says to Meet With Xi to Ease South China Sea Tensions

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(Bloomberg) — Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said he will have a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping for a second time this year to discuss ways to ease tensions in the South China Sea that have escalated in recent months.

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Marcos will seek Xi’s views “on what we can do to bring down the temperature, to not escalate the situation” in the disputed sea, according to a statement on Friday by the Presidential Communications Office. The meeting would be for “some time today,” the statement said, without providing details.

“After that, we will put together the ways forward because we are continuously trying to maintain the peace,” Marcos said, adding that he’s looking to “strategize for the near future” and determine the country’s “proper” role in the South China Sea. Marcos and Xi are attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in San Francisco.

The talks between the two leaders would be the first since January when Marcos met Xi during a state visit to Beijing where they agreed that the maritime dispute is not the sum-total of their relations.

But ties were strained weeks later. Marcos in early February granted the US military access to four additional Philippine sites, including bases near Taiwan, in a move that angered Beijing. The US, meanwhile, has repeatedly assured the Philippines of its ironclad commitment to defend the nation in case of an armed attack in the disputed sea.

The Philippine leader in February summoned Beijing’s envoy in Manila after the Chinese coast guard directed military-grade laser at a Philippine vessel in the South China Sea, which temporarily blinded the Filipino crew. Since then, tensions flared up as Manila accused Chinese vessels of harassing Philippine boats resupplying its lone outpost in the Second Thomas Shoal, part of Beijing’s expansive claims over South China Sea.

During a resupply mission early this month, a Chinese ship fired water cannon at a Philippine boat, while last month, vessels from both countries collided in two separate occasions.

Concerns about geopolitical tensions hurting economic ties emerged after Manila decided to drop Chinese loans for three railway projects and look for other funders.

The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday said Manila was not walking away from China’s Belt and Road Initiative when asked to comment on reports suggesting such move.

“The Philippines is still implementing infrastructure projects funded with Chinese official development assistance,” the department said, citing a memorandum of agreement signed on the Belt and Road Initiative in January this year.

(Updates with more context including latest remarks on China-funded projects in the Philippines.)

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