By Ruth Abbey Gita-Carlos

‘WORK IN PROGRESS’. President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (right) holds a pull-aside meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in San Francisco, California on Saturday, Manila time (Nov. 18, 2023). Marcos said the discussion between him and Xi should be viewed as a “work in progress” and part of the process to ease tensions in the South China Sea. (Photo from PBBM’s official Instagram account)

MANILA – President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday (Manila time) discussed fishing rights and other mechanisms to ease tensions between the Philippines and China in the South China Sea (SCS).

Marcos had a pull-aside meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in San Francisco, California, in the face of recent incidents in the SCS involving the two countries.

In a media interview, Marcos said 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 West Philippine Sea (WPS) before.”

Marcos was referring to the Oct. 22 incident in the WPS where a Chinese Coast Guard vessel collided with a Philippine supply boat, which was on a regular rotation and resupply mission to the detachment manning the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal.

He said he is optimistic that Manila and Beijing would find ways to avoid similar incidents in the future, as well as to “move forward from this situation.”

“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. “But nonetheless, the problems remain. It’s something that we will need to continue to communicate to find ways to avoid such incidents. And of course, as ever, whenever this issue comes up, I always bring up the plight of our fishermen.”

The President said he and Xi discussed the fishing rights in the SCS to enable both Chinese and Filipino fishermen to “fish together” in the disputed waters.

“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.

‘Work in progress’

Marcos said he and Xi agreed that the present challenges in the SCS concerning the Philippines and China “should not be the defining element of our relationship.”

Asked about the potential impact of his meeting with Xi on the SCS, Marcos said it is a “work in progress.”

“We really should view this as a work in progress. It’s a process,” he said. “We 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.”

On Thursday, Marcos also met with United States Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss ways to maintain peace in the WPS.

During his meeting with Harris, Marcos said his administration would find ways to assess “for the near future on what the Philippines’ role will be or what is the proper Philippines’ role in the West Philippine Sea.” (PNA)