Philippines-China relations

Marcos, Xi to talk West Philippine Sea in bilateral meet 

Bea Cupin

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Marcos, Xi to talk West Philippine Sea in bilateral meet 

STATE VISIT. Chinese President Xi Jinping and his wife, Peng Liyuan, welcome President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his wife Liza Araneta-Marcos, in January 2023.

RTVM screenshot

The two leaders are set to meet again in 2023 on the sidelines of the APEC Summit, but under very different circumstances: tensions have risen in the West Philippine Sea, amid continuing harassment by China of Philippine vessels

MANILA, Philippines – For the second time in 2023, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in San Francisco, USA.

The meeting is likely to take place Friday morning, November 17 (late Thursday, November 16 in San Francisco).

Marcos said that following a bilateral meeting with US Vice President Kamala Harris, he’d be able to “put together the ways forward” with regards to the situation in the West Philippine Sea once he gets the view of Xi.

“Again, we will get the view of the Chinese President on what we can do to bring down the temperature, to not escalate the situation in the West Philippine Sea, and we will put all of these together so as we’ll be able to strategize, for the near future, on what the Philippines’ role will be or what is the proper Philippine role in the West Philippine Sea,” said Marcos, in a video released by the Presidential Communications Office.

The first time Marcos met with Xi was also on the sidelines of the 2022 APEC Summit in Bangkok, Thailand. Following that first meeting, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said “the two sides must stick to friendly consultation and handle differences and disputes properly.”

The two leaders met a second time in January 2023, during Marcos’ state visit to Beijing.

But much has changed since.

The Philippines has restored and even upped ties with the US, opening up more bases to American boots under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. During an official visit to Washington DC in May 2023, the Philippines and US released new guidelines to govern the Mutual Defense Treaty.

Tensions in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in areas well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), have heated up in recent months amid Chinese harassment of Philippine vessels in those areas.

Ayungin, Bajo de Masinloc situation

Among the flashpoints of these tensions is Ayungin Shoal where the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting World War II ship that serves as a Philippine military outpost, has been aground since 1999.

Resupply missions to the Marines stationed there have been fraught with tension, with the last November 10 mission seeing five Philippine vessels going against 38 of China’s, and the Chinese Coast Guard using water cannons against a much smaller resupply boat.

Previous resupply missions have been marred by China’s laser-pointing, use of water cannons, and collision incidents in the open sea.

Ayungin Shoal is well within the 200-nautical-mile EEZ, meaning it’s the Philippines who has the right to exploit the natural resources in those waters.

China stakes its claim on its supposed 9-dash, now 10-dash line that encompasses practically the entire South China Sea. A 2016 Arbitral Ruling, the result of the Philippines taking China to court, has long deemed China’s sweeping claim invalid. Beijing has refused to acknowledge the ruling.

On Thursday, November 16 in Manila, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (dfa) called on China to remove the artificial islands it has built over features in the Spratlys within the Philippines’ EEZ. Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Spokesperson Teresita Daza also said the Philippines would not cede its sovereign rights over its EEZ.

“We are being asked to give prior notification each time we conduct a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal. We will not do so. The resupply missions are legitimate activities within our EEZ, in accordance with international law,” she said.

These areas in the West Philippine Sea are important for reasons beyond the rhetoric of international law and norms. Ayungin Shoal is rich is marine resources and is believed to have oil and gas deposits.

The same could be said about Bajo de Masinloc, another feature well within the Philippines’ EEZ. The 2016 Arbitral Award declared the area a traditional fishing ground for Chinese, Vietnamese, and Philippine fisherfolk – which means no country, not even the Philippines, has the right to stop small-scale fishing in the shoal.

But China has routinely barred Filipino fisherfolk from accessing the shoal’s lagoon – where marine catch is abundant and where shelter can be sought in times of bad weather. In late September 2023, the Philippines cut down a floating barrier the China Coast Guard had placed to stop fisherfolk from entering the lagoon.

As Beijing frames the Philippines’ activities as “intrusions” into its supposed territory, it’s also pinned the blame on the United States for Manila asserting its rights.

Marcos publicly rejected this framing during the August 2023 Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit in Jakarta. –

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.