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Philippine, Chinese foreign ministers hold talks amid South China Sea tensions

The top diplomats of the Philippines and China met over the weekend in a Chinese district and exchanged views on the South China Sea, Beijing said, amid fresh accusations from Manila over alleged Chinese aggression in the disputed waterway.

Filipino Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese counterpart Wang Yi held talks on Sunday in Tunxi, Anhui province, days after Manila and Washington launched one of their biggest joint military exercises in years that observers described as a show of force.

“On April 3, 2022, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with visiting Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin in Tunxi, Anhui province,” said a statement on the meeting posted on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website.

The two sides believe “that maritime issues should be put in a proper place in bilateral relations,” the statement added, without giving details.

Also without naming any nations or parties, Wang said Manila and Beijing “should eliminate interference, and calmly and properly manage differences, so as to prevent the overall China-Philippines relations from being affected.”

Wang added that China was willing to fast track key infrastructure projects in the Philippines and continue providing COVID-19 vaccine assistance, the Chinese foreign ministry statement said.

Attempts by the RFA-affiliated Benar News service to contact Locsin’s office for comment on the meeting went unanswered Monday.

The talks came amid this year’s joint Balikatan military exercises between the Philippines and the United States that involve about 9,000 troops from both sides. The exercises in the Philippines will go till April 8.

Wang and Locsin’s meeting comes after the Philippines in late March lodged a new diplomatic protest against China alleging that a Chinese coast guard ship maneuvered dangerously close to a Filipino vessel in the contested Scarborough Shoal earlier last month.

China’s foreign ministry, meanwhile, insisted that it was within its rights when its ship allegedly engaged in what the Philippine Coast Guard described as “close distance maneuvering” in South China Sea waters.

China’s envoy to Manila, Huang Xilian, did not say whether the issue of the Chinese coast guard ship was discussed at Sunday’s talks, but noted that the meeting of the two nations’ top diplomats produced “fruitful results.”

“The talks included China’s reaffirmation of its priority neighborhood diplomacy with the Philippines, the maintenance of amicable policies for continued and stable bilateral relations, and the peaceful and proper resolution of differences,” Huang said.

“China also reiterated its readiness to streamline key infrastructure projects’ construction with the Philippines.”