PRESIDENT Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. on Tuesday said the Philippines and China should explore avenues of cooperation and not just discuss territorial disputes, after confirming his upcoming meeting with a high-ranking Chinese diplomat.

“China and the Philippines should not just talk about the West Philippine Sea,” he said referring to parts of the South China Sea that are legally claimed by the Philippines.

Mr. Marcos confirmed during a media briefing in Malacañang that he will have a meeting with China’s State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

“Yes I will meet with him and the agenda I’m sure will be to strengthen ties with China and the Philippines and of course, to find ways to resolve the conflicts that we have,” he said.

“Let’s do other things too that will normalize our relationship.”

Still, Mr. Marcos said he would find ways to resolve conflicts over the disputed waterway.

The new Philippine leader, meanwhile, called on the country’s Southeast Asian neighbors and members of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation “to be active” in “trying to find ways to improve relationships.”

They are “stakeholders” and are important players in regional geopolitics, he said.

Mr. Yi was set to visit Manila on Tuesday for an official meeting with the Philippine’s foreign affairs chief.

In a statement, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said its Secretary Luis Enrique Austria G. Manalo and China’s Mr. Yi were set to have a bilateral meeting. “They will discuss a wide range of issues, focusing on maintaining and building on the positive trend of relations between the two countries.”

The invitation came from Mr. Manalo, the department said. Mr. Yi was the first foreign diplomat to be received by the DFA head since he assumed his new post on Friday.

President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. has tagged China as the Philippines’ “strongest partner” in pandemic recovery efforts. In a live-streamed event in June, Mr. Marcos said the Philippine-China relationship is “very important” and “advantageous to both countries.”

Some experts, on other hand, have said it remains to be seen whether Mr. Marcos would pursue closer ties with China since the United States has elevated efforts to strengthen its long-term alliance with the Philippines.

Maritime tension between the Philippines and China has risen in recent years as Beijing has ramped up construction activities in areas claimed by Manila.

China has refused to recognize the 2016 arbitral ruling that voided its claims to more than 80% of the disputed seas.

The Philippines has since filed several diplomatic protests against China due to its continued presence within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The South China Sea, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.

Mr. Marcos’ predecessor, former President Rodrigo R. Duterte, led a foreign policy pivot to China when he took office in 2016 in exchange of investment pledges, most of which have never materialized into actual projects.

In the past two decades to 2020, Japan was the Philippine’s top source of official development assistance, accounting for $14.139 billion worth of loans or 72% of the foreign aid portfolio, according to data released by the Department of Finance (DoF) in August 2021.

Under the Duterte administration, Japan provided 1 trillion yen ($9 billion) worth of loans mainly to infrastructure and economic development programs.

The European Union provided the equivalent of $3.049 billion, or 16%, during the period, and China $1.185 billion.

ODAs are concessional loans the government obtains from its foreign development partners to help it finance its budget deficit. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza