Marcos tells Xi: Philippine fishers should work freely in West Philippine Sea

By: Nestor Corrales - Reporter / @NCorralesINQ - | November 19,2023 - 01:41 PM

SAN FRANCISCO — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Saturday met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and again raised his concern over Beijing’s growing aggression in the West Philippines Sea (WPS), a cause of recurring tensions that last month also resulted in a collision between a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel and a Philippine boat carrying supplies to a military outpost.

Marcos, who met Xi for the third time since becoming president 16 months ago, told his Chinese counterpart that Filipino fishermen should be free to pursue their livelihood in the WPS, as the waters are well within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

It was the Philippine leader who asked for a bilateral meeting with Xi, who also attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) Summit here.

“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,” Marcos told reporters in San Francisco.

Filipinos, he stressed, must be able to fish in the WPS unharmed.

“I always bring up the plight of our fishermen” in his meetings with Xi, the president added.

He and Xi “tried to come up with mechanisms to lower the tensions in the South China Sea,” Marcos said, without elaborating.

‘Work in progress’

He admitted that “the problems remain and it is something that we will need to continue to communicate to find ways to avoid such incidents.”

“And hopefully to find ways to avoid that and have ways to move forward from this situation,” Marcos said. “And that’s essentially the message that we spoke of to each other, that we were in agreement that the problems that we have in the South China Sea, with China, should not be the defining element of our relationship.”

Efforts to resolve the South China Sea issue are a “work in progress,” he said.

“It’s a process. There is no one thing that we will do that will solve all the problems. We have to continue to communicate,” he said “We have to continue to be candid with one another and to be sincere in our desire to keep the peace. And I think that sincerity exists for all parties involved.”

Marcos has maintained that the “Cold War mindset” should no longer apply when addressing tensions in the disputed South China Sea, the bigger body of water that includes the WPS.

He reiterated this on Saturday, saying “I do not think anybody wants to go to war.”

Continued harassment

“And so that is … the premise actually to everything, all the discussions that we have been having: how to maintain the peace so that the sea lanes and the airways over the South China Sea are open and continue to be the important gateway to Asia as it is today.”

Marcos said having face-to-face meetings with Xi “always makes a difference.’’

The two leaders had their first bilateral meeting in Bangkok, Thailand, during the Apec summit in November last year. They met again in January this year when Marcos went on a state visit to Beijing.

Despite commitments to restrain aggressive actions in the South China Sea, the harassment of Filipino vessels continued.

On Nov. 10, a CCG ship again fired its water cannon on a Philippine resupply boat on its way to the BRP Sierra Madre, a grounded World War II-era ship now housing Filipino troops at Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

In February this year, a CCG vessel pointed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard patrol ship also en route to Ayungin.

Filipino fishermen have complained that Chinese coast guard and maritime militia ships are preventing them from fishing in parts of the Philippines’ 370-kilometer EEZ.

Warmer US ties

Since taking office in 2022, Marcos has pursued warmer ties with the United States, a treaty ally, in contrast with the pro-Beijing stance of his predecessor.

Marcos granted the United States greater access to its military bases, including in provinces facing the South China Sea and democratically ruled Taiwan, drawing the ire of Beijing.

Tensions in the region, where China has built man-made islands with missiles and airstrips, have increased this year.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, ignoring a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration that invalidated Beijing’s expansive claim.

China’s embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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TAGS: Apec Summit, China, Exclusive Economic Zone, West philippine Sea, WPS

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