Manila, Beijing agree to establish hotline to avoid South China Sea mishaps


Manila, Beijing agree to establish hotline to avoid South China Sea mishaps

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) walks with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. after reviewing an honor guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Jan. 4, 2023.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Thursday that he and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to set up a hotline to avert miscommunication in the contested South China Sea, over which Manila has filed 65 diplomatic protests since Marcos took office in June. 

As the Philippine leader wrapped up a three-day state visit to China – his first presidential trip there – the two governments signed 14 bilateral agreements expected to boost trade. Marcos also returned to Manila with investment pledges from Chinese firms totaling U.S. $22.8 billion (1.2 trillion pesos).

“This communication line would be opened between the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Office of the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China,” said a statement from the Philippine presidential communications office.

Marcos and Xi agreed that “confidence-building measures would contribute to improving mutual trust,” the statement said, underscoring the importance of consultations between governments regarding issues in the West Philippine Sea – Manila’s name for territories it claims in the South China Sea.

Regarding the communication line, a spokeswoman for the Chinese foreign ministry said the leaders agreed to deepen “strategic mutual trust.

“The two presidents reiterated readiness to continue to properly handle maritime issues through friendly consultation and announced the resumption of negotiations on oil and gas exploration,” spokeswoman Mao Ning told reporters during a daily press conference on Thursday.

Upon arriving home, Marcos said that he and Xi “had an in-depth and frank discussion on the West Philippine Sea issue.

“We took note of our growing maturity of this bilateral relationship – this bilateral relationship which now allows both sides to manage differences on the West Philippine Sea, so as to not allow it to hinder the rest of our fruitful engagements and multi-faceted cooperation,” Marcos said. 

Both Beijing and Manila agree that “maritime issues do not comprise the entirety” of two-way relations, but remain a significant concern.

Marcos and Xi also affirmed the importance of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), even though a binding code of conduct to govern actions in the sea region remains elusive.

China and the 10 member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed the DOC in 2002.

It states that all parties will exercise self-restraint in activities that complicate or heighten tension and affect peace in the maritime region. That includes “refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays and other features” in the South China Sea.

China claims nearly all of the waterway on historical grounds, including areas within the exclusive economic zones of Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. It also claims historic rights to areas of the waterway that overlap Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone as well.

While China has said it would abide by the DOC, it has carried on with construction activities and sent Chinese fishing boats backed by its coast guard to waters considered to be within the jurisdiction of other claimants.

Marcos has said he would assert a 2016 international arbitration court ruling, which Manila won and which invalidated China’s vast claims to the sea region. Beijing has ignored the ruling.

Still, both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to establishing a code of conduct in line with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Investment pledges

On the economic front, Marcos said that Chinese firms had pledged billions of dollars in investments in the Philippines. 

The Philippines received pledges for renewable energy projects totaling $13.76 billion (769 billion pesos). Those pledges are aimed at solar and wind projects including manufacturing of necessary equipment, the state-run Philippine News Agency reported.

Other pledges deal with electric vehicles, mineral processing and agribusiness, according to PNA.

“[T]he two countries need to form greater synergy between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Philippines’ Build Better More program, and strengthen cooperation in the four priority areas of agriculture, infrastructure, energy and people-to-people exchanges to boost each other’s modernization drive and bring more benefits to our two peoples,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said.

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