While the Philippines is staging its largest-ever military exercises with the United States, Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Saturday (April 22) held bilateral talks with his Philippine counterpart Enrique Manalo. The two countries are holding joint military exercises, with nearly 18,000 troops taking part in live-fire and combat drills until April 28.
At the start of the bilateral talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Gang, Enrique Manalo said that the Philippines’ differences with China in the South China Sea were not the total of relations between the two countries.
“These differences should not prevent us from seeking ways of managing them effectively, especially with respect to the enjoyment of rights of Filipinos, especially fishermen,” Manalo said, the news agency Reuters reported.
Qin Gang, meanwhile, said on Saturday that China was ready to work with the Philippines to implement a consensus between the two countries and properly resolve differences. Later in the day, the Chinese foreign minister will meet Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
A day before Gang arrived in Manila, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that the foreign minister’s visit was aimed at enhancing mutual trust and properly handling differences with the Philippines.
Overlapping claims in the South China Sea have been a sticking point in the relations between Beijing and Manila.
China has claimed sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, deploying hundreds of vessels there to patrol the waters and occupy reefs. China also ignored a 2016 international tribunal ruling that its claims had no legal basis.
Richard Heydarian, a Philippine foreign analyst, told the news agency AFP that Qin Gang’s visit (to the Philippines) was “timely and extremely important” given the current state of relations between the two nations.
“We’re really confronting a total crisis in Philippine-China relations. The question is what is China going to offer the Philippines? Is it sticks or is it carrots? If it’s carrots, will it be enough in terms of changing Marcos’ ideas?” Heydarian said.