By the Associated Press
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano was in Beijing on Wednesday for talks on possible joint development projects in the South China Sea amid signs of an easing of tensions in the disputed waterway.
Cayetano was scheduled to meet with his counterpart Wang Yi later in the afternoon and on Friday with newly-appointed Vice President Wang Qishan, a close ally of President Xi Jinping.
China and the Philippines have long tussled over islands and reefs in the South China Sea and since taking office in 2013, Xi has taken a hard line on issues of Chinese sovereignty.
Kicking off his second five-year term on Tuesday, Xi declared in a fervently nationalistic address to the ceremonial legislature that China would never cede “one inch” of its territory.
China rejected an international tribunal’s 2016 ruling invalidating much of its claim to virtually the entire South China Sea in a case brought by the Philippines.
Prior to his Tuesday departure, Cayetano said the sides would discuss “broad areas of collaboration,” but gave no specifics, according to Philippine online news source Rappler. He said the territorial dispute would be discussed “in the context of how we can improve the situation,” and that the sides were trying to find a legal framework acceptable to both that would allow joint exploration even as they continued to disagree.
Cayetano said talks would also touch on agricultural exports, investment in infrastructure and operations against Muslim extremists allied with the Islamic State group in the southern Philippines, Rappler reported.
President Rodrigo Duterte has pushed for closer relations with Beijing, downplaying the dispute over territory claimed by both sides and courting Chinese aid and investment. For its part, China has eased pressure on Philippine fishermen and is working with the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to reach a code of conduct to avoid frictions while operating in the area where an estimated $5 trillion in international trade passes annually.
Along with rich but diminishing fishing stocks, the South China Sea is believed to hold deposits of oil, gas and other resources.