Balancing Act

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China and the Philippines agreed to strengthen their economic ties and restart talks on oil exploration, following a meeting between both countries’ leaders as they try to mend relations over contested areas in the South China Sea, CNN reported Thursday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping met with his Philippine counterpart, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., during the latter’s first state visit to Beijing.

In a joint statement, both leaders said they held an “in-depth and candid” discussion about the situation in the South China Sea and agreed to “appropriately manage differences” related to the contentious zone.

China and the Philippines have continuously clashed over the 1.3-million square-mile maritime zone – of which Beijing asserts most as its own – despite claims from other countries washed by the sea.

Philippine officials have lamented the presence of Chinese vessels in the waterway and accused them of harassing Filipino fishers in the region.

To avoid potential conflict, Marcos Jr. and Xi announced plans to set up a direct line of communication between their maritime departments.

At the same time, Manila and Beijing also agreed to restart talks on oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea, which were stalled in June due to constitutional disputes and sovereignty issues.

Meanwhile, both nations also signed a total of 14 bilateral agreements, including deals related to agriculture, infrastructure, and maritime security.

The meeting comes about two months after US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the Philippines to reaffirm Washington’s “unwavering” commitment to its ally. Harris and Marcos Jr. also discussed 21 new US-funded projects, including more defense sites around the Philippines.

The Philippines has long been balancing America’s Pacific strategic interests with China’s geopolitical and economic expansion.

While the Philippines has historically been a US defense ally, previous President Rodrigo Duterte sought deeper ties with China during his six years in office, putting aside its territorial dispute in exchange for Chinese investments.

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