(Bloomberg) -- Philippines and China should focus on mutually beneficial endeavors and restrain from aggressive acts in the South China Sea, a Philippine official said, as the two nations agreed to ensure peace and stability in the disputed waters.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa Lazaro said she looks forward to a time when there will no longer be reports of maritime incidents between the two countries, according to a statement issued by Manila’s Department of Foreign Affairs on Friday after a two-day bilateral consultation between officials of both nations. 

“I cannot overemphasize that this should start with restraint from aggressive acts,” Lazaro said.

China, represented by Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong, and the Philippines reaffirmed their adherence to international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and agreed to finalize an “effective and substantive” code of conduct in the contested waters, according to the statement.

The two nations also tackled the possibility of convening annual defense security talks and reviving a previous agreement on a joint coast guard committee. They also discussed potential training on aquaculture and marine environment cooperation.


Lazaro said the consultation, which was last held in 2021, meant to strengthen the agreement between President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping, when the Philippine leader visited Beijing in January, that “maritime issues should be addressed through diplomacy and dialogue, and never through coercion and intimidation.”

The two sides also discussed their respective positions on the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal ruling in The Hague, it said, without providing details. The ruling, which Beijing has refused to recognize, invalidated China’s claim over nearly all of South China Sea.

The talks were held as relations between the two countries show signs of strain, with Manila calling Beijing’s attention to “unauthorized presence” of dozens of Chinese naval and coast guard vessels in its territorial waters in the past months. The Philippines has filed 77 diplomatic protests against China over alleged “violations” in the South China Sea since Marcos came into office last year.

At the same time, the Southeast Asian nation has given US greater access to military bases near Taiwan as well as in Palawan province near South China Sea. 

(Adds details from statement, background from fourth paragraph)

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