CHINA TOPIX

Updated 10:35 AM EDT, Thu, Apr 18, 2019

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China, Philippine Naval Forces Pursue Maritime Cooperation in South China Sea

China, Philippine Naval Forces Pursue Maritime Cooperation in South China Sea

(Photo : Getty Images) Beijing and Manila have agreed to pursue cooperation in the South China Sea.

The Chinese and Philippine coast guards met on Friday in Manila and discussed maritime cooperation on the disputed South China Sea following the Philippines' earlier announcement that it would temporarily set aside its conflict with the Asian giant on the disputed waters.

The meeting held in Manila was the first time for the two navies since the start of their conflict over ownership of several islands and reefs in the strategic waterway years ago.

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Military analysts said the meeting was a clear sign that the Philippines is seeking a strong alliance with Beijing and letting go of its ties with its longstanding ally, the United States.

No objections

Asked about the recent reports that China has militarized the region such as setting up several weapon systems and equipment in the disputed shoals islands and reefs, Philippine defense secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters that Manila has no objections to Chinese naval activities in the area.

"The Philippines has taken a rather moderate approach toward the Chinese position on the status of the claims in the South China Sea," Carl Baker, director of programs at the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu, said.

Baker said Manila is now amenable to China's proposal that the South China Sea dispute must be resolved through bilateral talks instead of taking Beijing to a world court.

Policy shift

"As relations warm, both China and the Philippines will try to enlarge their artificial islands, build new structures on them and improve on existing infrastructure,"  Baker said.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, upon assuming the presidency last June, has taken all measures to lead its foreign policy shift towards China and away from the United States.

Meanwhile, Manila has recently entered into a $14 million firearms agreement with Beijing after it cancelled an order of 27,000 assault rifles from the US payable within 25 years.

The cancellation was made after foreign media have reported that delivery of the assault rifles would not transpire because of Obama's human rights concerns on Duterte's anti-crime campaign.

Aside from the arms deal, Beijing offered Manila $450 million in soft loan to assist Duterte's war on drugs and its fight against terrorism.

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