CHINA on Wednesday accused the United States of worsening tensions by boosting military deployment in the Asia-Pacific region.

“The US side, out of selfish interests, remains trapped in a zero-sum mentality and keeps increasing military deployment in the Asia-Pacific,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing in Beijing, based on a transcript posted on the agency’s website. “This would escalate tensions and endanger peace and stability in the region.”

“Regional countries need to remain vigilant and avoid being coerced or used by the US,” he added.

He also reiterated his opposition to a decision by Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. to increase US access to military bases in the Southeast Asian nation under their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Mr. Wang said physical consultations between the Foreign ministries of China and the Philippines would let both sides have an “in-depth communication on properly handling maritime disputes and advancing practical maritime cooperation, and exchange views on international and regional issues of shared interest.”

“We hope and believe that this round of consultation will help enhance mutual understanding and trust and bring about closer communication and coordination between the two sides, and galvanize joint efforts for the sound and steady growth of bilateral ties,” he added.

Last month, the Philippine government said it would allow the US to access four more military bases. Projects at five existing EDCA sites were almost finished, it added. Under the 2014 pact, Philippine military bases may be used for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building facilities such as runways, fuel storage and military housing.

Meanwhile, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Vice President Sun Weidong, said he expects friendly relations between China and the Philippines to continue.

“We need to… deepen our comprehensive strategic cooperation, enhance our cooperation in various practical areas and properly deal with our differences through friendly consultation,” he told Philippine envoys during a meeting at the Diamond Hotel in Manila streamed live on Facebook on Thursday.

Mr. Sun said consultations would continue under a “favorable atmosphere” amid talks on the South China Sea.

At the meeting, Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ma. Theresa P. Lazaro said the Philippines looks forward to “utilizing these consultations to implement the consensus between our two leaders.”

Ms. Lazaro was referring to Philippine President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit to Beijing in January. The neighbors signed 14 bilateral deals covering infrastructure, agriculture, trade and tourism, while the Philippines also got business pledges from China worth about $23 billion.

The seventh Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea was the first since a global coronavirus pandemic started in 2020.

“In light of this fast-changing international landscape, China stands ready to work with countries in the neighborhood including the Philippines to enhance our solidarity and cooperation, communication and coordination to jointly uphold our shared interests and peace and stability of the region,” Mr. Sun said.

“It has been almost four years since the last physical Foreign Ministry consultations, and the Philippines attaches much importance to this mechanism,” Ms. Lazaro said. “Through these Foreign Ministry consultations, we hope to translate the outcomes of the state visit into concrete and high impact engagements that are mutually beneficial for our two countries and peoples,” she added.

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. 

More than 40 Chinese boats were still roaming near Thitu Island in the South China Sea, the Philippine Coast Guard said weeks after it accused its Chinese counterpart of endangering the crew of a resupply ship in an incident that has stoked long-running diplomatic tensions over China’s expansive claims in the waterway.

Mr. Marcos has asked the Philippine Army to boost relations with its foreign counterparts, highlighting the importance of international ties amid increasing Chinese assertiveness in Philippine-claimed areas in the South China Sea.

Local foreign policy think tanks and experts have been urging the Philippine government to partner with as many countries as possible to deter China’s expansive activities at sea. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan