Philippines' Marcos Jr. heads to China amid sea disputes

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Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., right, waves beside wife Maria Louise as they board a plane for China on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, at the Villamor Air Base in Manila, Philippines. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA – Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. flew to China on Tuesday for a three-day state visit, saying he looks forward to his meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping as they work to boost bilateral ties.

“As I leave for Beijing, I will be opening a new chapter in our comprehensive, strategic cooperation with China,” he told officials and diplomats, including the Chinese ambassador, prior to boarding his flight from an air base in the capital.

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“I look forward to my meeting with President Xi as we work towards shifting the trajectory of our relations to a higher gear that would hopefully bring numerous prospects and abundant opportunities for peace and development to the peoples of both our countries,” he added.

Alluding to the two countries’ territorial dispute in the South China Sea, he said he looks forward to discussing bilateral and regional political and security issues.

“The issues between our two countries are problems that do not belong between two friends such as Philippines and China,” he added. “We will seek to resolve those issues to mutual benefit of our two countries.”

China claims virtually the entire South China Sea and has ignored a 2016 ruling by a tribunal in The Hague that invalidated Beijing’s claims to the waterway. The case was brought by the Philippines, which says China has since developed disputed reefs into artificial islands with airplane runways and other structures so they now resemble forward military bases.

Most recently, a Filipino military commander reported that the Chinese coast guard forcibly seized Chinese rocket debris that Filipino navy personnel had retrieved in the South China Sea last month.

China denied the forcible seizure. Marcos said he would seek further clarification on his visit to Beijing.

Accompanied by a big business delegation, Marcos said they will seek cooperation in various areas including agriculture, energy, infrastructure, trade and investments, and people-to-people exchanges. He said they expect to sign more than 10 key bilateral agreements during the visit.

China accounts for 20% of the Philippines’ foreign trade and is also a major source of foreign direct investment.

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