Marcos stands firm in meeting with Xi over South China Sea tension

For the second time this year, Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a bid to ease rising tensions in the South China Sea (known as West Philippine Sea (WPS) in the Philippines).  

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in San Francisco, California on Saturday, Nov. 18 amid recent incidents in WPS involving the two countries. 

According to Marcos, he requested a meeting with Xi to “once again voice concern on some of the incidents that were happening between Chinese vessels and Philippine vessels, culminating in the actual collision in the WPS.” 

The Filipino president was referring to the October 22 incident near Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), involving the collision between a Chinese Coast Guard vessel and a Philippine supply boat enroute to the grounded BRP Sierra Madre. 

Marcos expressed optimism that Manila and Beijing would find ways to avoid such incidents in the future, aiming to “move forward from this situation”. 

During the meeting, Marcos brought up concerns regarding the repeated clashes between Chinese and Philippine vessels. He sought ways to de-escalate tensions and prevent future clashes, emphasizing the collective desire of all involved parties to maintain peace and ensure uninterrupted sea routes for regional growth. 

Marcos even described the meeting as a pivotal step toward resolving conflicts and sustaining peace efforts.  

Chinese president Xi Jinping (left) and Filipino president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

Talks about WPS a “work in progress” 

Marcos asserted that both he and Xi agreed that the ongoing sea dispute between the Philippines and China “should not be the defining element of our relationship”. 

When asked about the meeting’s potential impact on the WPS, Marcos labeled it as a “work in progress”. 

“We really should view this as a work in progress. It’s a process,” he said, adding that they have to continue to communicate. 

“We have to continue to be candid with one another and to be sincere in our desire for peace. I think that sincerity exists for both parties involved. I do not think anybody wants to go to war. So that is something, the premise actually of all the discussions that we have been having,” Marcos stressed.  

During their interaction at the APEC summit, both leaders recognized the ongoing tensions and agreed to maintain continuous communication to prevent similar incidents from happening. 

Filipinos should fish freely in WPS, Marcos tells Xi 

The core of their meeting involved delving into fishing rights in the WPS, as Marcos pushed for agreements enabling both Chinese and Filipino fishermen to collaborate in fishing activities within these contested waters. 

Marcos also noted the importance of addressing the challenges faced by Filipino fishermen in the disputed area. He urged Xi to refrain from disturbing or allowing the harassment of Filipino fishermen. 

The president underscored the significance of ensuring the safety of Filipino fishermen and advocated against the use of force. 

According to Marcos, he and Xi have established mechanisms to resolve conflicts. He said that Filipino fishermen should not be harmed, and that force should not be used. 

“I always bring up the plight of our fishermen. And I asked that we go back to the situation where both Chinese and Filipino fishermen were fishing together in these waters and so, I think the point was well taken by President Xi,” he said. 

“Nonetheless, the problems remain, and it is something that we will need to continue to communicate to find ways to avoid such incidents,” said Marcos. 

Marcos intends to continue to communicate with Xi further to address ongoing incidents and to explore means of de-escalating tensions in the WPS. Marcos said they had discussed ways to ease the dispute. 

“Essentially, we tried to come up with mechanisms to lower the tensions in the South China Sea. That’s essentially the message that we spoke of to each other,” Marcos said.  

In recent months, tensions in the WPS, specifically within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), have escalated due to Chinese harassment of Filipino fishermen and Philippine vessels in these areas. 

Two days before meeting with Xi, Marcos held discussions with United States Vice President Kamala Harris regarding strategies for upholding peace in the WPS. 

During the meeting with Harris, Marcos said his administration would find ways to assess “for the near future what the Philippines’ role will be or what is the proper Philippines’ role in the WPS”.   

Marcos and Harris further fortified the Philippine-US alliance while discussing ongoing initiatives aimed at bolstering security ties and expanding commercial and economic collaboration. 

Chinese president Xi Jinping (second from left) and Filipino president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr (second from right).

Boosting WPS defense: Senate raises coast guard budget by PHP1.3 billion 

Amid tensions in WPS, the Senate took action to boost the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) capabilities by increasing its budget. 

Senators approved a PHP1.3 billion (US$23.4 million) budget hike for 2024, raising its total budget to PHP27 billion for the upcoming year.

Rear Admiral Armando Balilo, spokesperson for the PCG, stressed that this increase would significantly strengthen the agency’s operations, extending assistance not only in the WPS but also in securing regions in the southern Philippines and Benham Rise along the eastern seaboard.

Balilo thanked the Senate for supporting the PCG in fulfilling its duties and progressing with modernization efforts. He stressed that this augmentation would enhance the PCG’s capacity development and day-to-day operations. 

Likewise, Balilo assured the public of responsible financial management in compliance with established auditing procedures. 

Senator Grace Poe earlier announced the approval of additional funds for the PCG’s vessel operations and maintenance during the Department of Transportation’s fiscal year 2024 budget debate, citing the situation in the WPS as a key reason for the budget increase. 

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri concluded the plenary debate by highlighting the Senate’s unwavering support and confidence in the PCG’s ability to protect the country’s territorial integrity and sovereign rights.

All photos credit: Philippine Presidential Communications Office.

Top photo: Chinese president Xi Jinping (left) and Filipino president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

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