Xi and Duterte issue statement on disputed waterway — Analysis

The South China Sea should be calm as the Philippine president is about to step down.

During a one-hour telephone summit, Rodrigo Duterte of Philippines and Xi Jinping of China spoke about the importance of maintaining diplomatic calm in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

Duterte reacts to China blocking Philippines ships

These leaders reiterated the importance of putting all resources into maintaining peace, security and stability at the South China Sea. This includes avoiding tensions, exercising restraint and working within a mutually acceptable framework to facilitate functional cooperation.,” Duterte’s office said in a statement, adding that both nations’ leaders were willing to “Broaden your opportunities for positive engagements” despite existing disputes.

The Philippines clashed with China last month over a Chinese Coast Guard vessel allegedly engaging in “close distance maneuvering” in the South China Sea, claiming the ship’s activities increased the risk of collision. It was the latest of 200 such diplomatic protests Manila has filed over its neighbor’s activities in the disputed waterway. Both countries claim rights to the South China Sea. This lucrative route is used for trade and passes through $3 trillion annually. The dispute has been ongoing since a 2016 international arbitration ruling invalidated China’s exclusive claims to the waterway.

The leaders spoke out on Friday at a virtual summit and stressed the importance of a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ukraine. They also promised cooperation to tackle climate change.

Xi specifically expressed approval of the two countries’ handling of their disputes in the South China Sea, stating that “Stärkung of military alliances is not a way to achieve regional security,” according to Xinhua News Agency. 

Manila, however, has stated previously that it could open its facilities to the US in the event of a war in Ukraine. 

US and Philippines hold largest ever joint military drills

In addition to strengthening its alliance with Japan through increased joint exercises and defense cooperation, the Philippines also has stepped up their defence cooperation. The two countries made clear their opposition to “Actions that could increase tensions” in the East and South China Seas in a joint statement on Saturday and condemned Russia’s “aggression” in Ukraine, claiming it affects not just Europe but Asia as well. 

Duterte will be retiring as president, having been elected in 2016. In return for millions of dollars of investment, loans and aid, Duterte has renegotiated relations with Beijing.

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