China's FM holds talks in Philippines amid strained ties

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Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, right, and Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo shake hands during the welcome ceremony prior to their bilateral meeting at the Diamond Hotel on Saturday, April 22, 2023, in Manila, Philippines. (Gerard Carreo/Pool Photo via AP)

MANILA – China's foreign minister said Saturday his country is willing to work with the Philippines to resolve their differences, as tensions rise over Beijing's behavior in the disputed South China Sea and Manila's deeping military cooperation with the U.S.

Foreign Minister Qin Gang held talks in Manila with his Philippine counterpart, Enrique Manalo, and was scheduled to meet with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. just days before he travels to Washington for a meeting with President Joe Biden.

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China has warned that a deepening security alliance between the United States and the Philippines should not harm its security and territorial interests and interfere in long-simmering territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Beijing has criticized a recent agreement by the Philippines and the U.S. to grant U.S. forces access to additional local military camps.

The deal allows American forces to establish military staging grounds and surveillance outposts in the northern Philippines across the sea from Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its territory, and in provinces facing the South China Sea, which Beijing claims virtually in its entirety.

“We are willing to work together with Philippines to implement the consensus of both leaders, keep China-Philippine ties in the right direction, safeguard the overall situation of our bilateral relationship, work together to continue our tradition of friendship, deepen mutually beneficial cooperation, and properly resolve our differences in the spirit of credibility, consultation, and dialogue,” Qin told reporters.

Manalo said he hoped the meeting will provide an opportunity to make “some headway in addressing common issues and challenges.”

The Philippines has filed more than 200 diplomatic protests against China since last year, including at least 77 since Marcos took office in June. Most of the complaints refer to China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, including targeting a Philippine coast guard ship with a military-grade laser in February.

Washington lays no claims to the contested waters but has challenged Beijing’s extensive claims, including by deploying warships and fighter jets and repeatedly warning that it would help defend the Philippines — a treaty ally — if Philippine forces, ships and aircraft are attacked. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have overlapping claims in the seaway, which sits atop vast deposits of oil and gas.

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