(Bloomberg) -- The US and the Philippines have agreed to resume joint patrols in the South China Sea amid lingering tensions with China in the disputed waters.

The decision was reached during Thursday’s meeting between US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Philippine counterpart, Carlito Galvez, where they also exchanged views “on shared regional security challenges in the Indo-Pacific,” according to a Feb. 2 readout from the Pentagon published on its website.

In 2016, the Philippines under then-President Rodrigo Duterte halted joint patrols with the US in the South China Sea, saying the Southeast Asian country needed to reassess its relationship with the US. The current leader, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has sought to boost the two nations’ longstanding alliance, while the US under President Joe Biden has repeated commitments to defend the Philippines in the contested sea. 

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Beijing has been asserting its claims to a wide swath of the South China Sea, including islands and reefs Manila sees as its own. Chinese ships have regularly been seen trailing Philippine fishing vessels, often intercepting them and forcing them to divert from contested areas.

The US Defense Department’s statement also said the decision to add four more Philippine facilities for American access under a key military deal will help in responding more effectively to natural disasters and to “other crises, including in the South China Sea.”

Austin and Galvez have agreed to meet again later this year at a ministerial-level 2+2 meeting in Washington.

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