MANILA, Nov 18 (Mabuhay) — President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping have called for the immediate conclusion of negotiations for the final and binding Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea (SCS) to address the maritime disputes among littoral states.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping in a historic bilateral meeting held on the sidelines of the 29th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting (AELM) in Thailand today, November 17. The two leaders arranged the meeting to discuss Philippines-China relations and plan for PBBM’s official visit to China in January.(MNS photo)

During a bilateral meeting in Bangkok, Thailand on Thursday, Marcos and Xi agreed that the issuance of the COC in the SCS is vital in resolving disputes among sea claimants, including the Philippines and China, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a news release on Friday.

Marcos and Xi concurred that the SCS issue should not affect the improving relations between the Philippines and China.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. held a bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the 29th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting (AELM) in Thailand. (MNS photo)

“On the South China Sea issue, the two leaders agreed that maritime issues do not define the totality of Philippines-China relations,” the DFA said. “They also reaffirmed their support for the early conclusion of a Code of Conduct on the South China Sea to help manage differences and regional tensions.”

Marcos earlier said he would raise the long-standing disputes in SCS when he gets the chance to meet with Xi.

As quoted by the DFA, Marcos told Xi that the Philippines is charting an independent foreign policy that “refuses to fall into the trap of a Cold War mindset.”

“Ours is an independent foreign policy guided by our national interest and commitment to peace,” he said during his first meeting with Xi.

China, the Philippines, and several other littoral states have overlapping claims in the SCS.

Beijing is claiming about 80 percent of the contested waters.

However, the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration on July 12, 2016, ruled against China’s supposedly historic rights over nearly the entire SCS.

‘Enhanced’ economic, dev’t partnerships

Despite the SCS territorial disputes, Marcos and Xi renewed the Philippines and China’s ties and vowed to elevate their economic and development partnerships, the DFA said.

It said the two leaders vowed to improve the two nations’ cooperation in various fields, including agriculture, trade, infrastructure, energy, people-to-people ties, and pandemic response.

“Both leaders agreed to consider more infrastructure projects. President Xi cited the Davao-Samal bridge project in Davao as a prime example of infrastructure partnership. He thanked President Marcos for personally attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the bridge project,” the department said.

Xi also expressed openness to increasing the importation of quality agricultural produce from the Philippines, particularly the planned entry of durian to the Chinese market.

Marcos, on the other hand, expressed gratitude to Xi for China’s donation of 20,000 tons of urea fertilizers and coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) vaccines to the Philippines.

Marcos said China’s assistance to the Philippines has helped “strengthen trust” between the two nations and brought “tremendous growth” in exchanges and cooperation in agriculture, infrastructure, energy, and people-to-people ties.

The inaugural meeting between the two leaders happened after their phone call on May 18.

Marcos is also set to embark on a state visit to China in the first week of January 2023. (MNS)