The Philippines and China have agreed to support the early conclusion of discussions about the creation of a code of conduct in the South China Sea, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Friday.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping both affirmed that the sea code would “help manage differences and regional tensions” in the disputed waters, the DFA said in a statement.
“The two leaders agreed that maritime issues do not define the totality of Philippines-China relations,” the statement read.
The DFA also noted that Mr. Marcos told Xi: “Our foreign policy refuses to fall into the trap of a Cold War mindset. Ours is an independent foreign policy guided by our national interest and commitment to peace.”
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs earlier said that Xi told Mr. Marcos that he wants to “write a new chapter in the China-Philippines friendship.”
ASEAN and China signed a declaration to create a sea code 20 years ago, but the actual code has yet to be finalized.
Among the contentious parts of the negotiations are whether or not the code should be legally binding, and if non-parties should also be subject to it.
The two leaders met for the first time on Nov.17 on the sidelines of the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in Bangkok. It was their first face-to-face meeting.
During the meeting, Mr. Marcos also highlighted the need for enhanced economic and development partnerships. Among the areas of cooperation discussed were in agriculture, trade, infrastructure, energy, people-to-people ties, and pandemic response.
“There has been tremendous growth in exchanges and cooperation in agriculture, infrastructure, energy, and people-to-people ties between the two countries,” Mr. Marcos told Xi.
He thanked Xi for China’s donation of 20,000 tons of urea fertilizers.
He also said that COVID-19 cooperation helped strengthen trust, with China being the first to donate COVID-19 vaccines to the country.
Both leaders also agreed to consider more infrastructure projects. President Xi cited the Davao-Samal bridge project as a prime example of infrastructure partnership. He thanked President Marcos for personally attending the groundbreaking ceremony for the bridge project.
Xi said China was open to increasing the importation of quality agricultural produce from the Philippines, highlighting the planned entry of durian from the Philippines to the Chinese market.
Mr. Marcos also accepted the invitation from President Xi for a state visit to China in early January next year.
Meanwhile, at an APEC retreat session, Mr. Marcos emphasized the need to narrow the digital divide to allow disadvantaged segments of the economies in the Asia-Pacific region to participate in the digital economy, particularly micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
He said the revitalization of MSMEs is one of the top priorities of his administration, considering their role as catalysts for economic regeneration, job creation, and poverty reduction.
“However, they continue to face systemic problems and structural challenges, heightened by the pandemic. MSMEs need opportunities and assistance to recover, to grow, and to progress in the post-pandemic and digital age,” Mr. Marcos told the APEC meeting.
The digital economy promises MSMEs increased resilience and productivity if the right tools and policies are in place, Mr. Marcos said.
At the same time, Mr. Marcos called for the adoption of various policies that promote a green post-pandemic recovery as the world emerges from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
“My dear colleagues, as the world emerges from the downturn caused by the pandemic, it is evident that recovery has been uneven—perhaps I would go so far to say it has been inequitable and insufficiently supportive of a green transition. Economies must leverage this opportunity to recalibrate policies to promote a green post-pandemic recovery,” the President said.
“It is for these reasons that the Philippines welcomes and supports the adoption of the Bangkok Goals on the Bio-Circular-Green (BCG) Economy, which is a concrete initiative that will lead the Asia-Pacific region towards a sustainable future,” Mr. Marcos said.
The President said the BCG Economy model aligns with his administration’s agenda to create green and quality jobs, ensure a level playing field for all members of the economy and reduce vulnerabilities from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Philippines, Mr. Marcos said, also cited the adoption of its Sustainable Finance Roadmap, which lays out a whole-of-government approach to promote sustainable finance and green policies.
Similarly, among the current government’s socioeconomic priorities are to expedite the realization of the Green Jobs Act and the establishment of the green jobs certification system and incentive schemes, develop the green workforce, and issue green bonds for its infrastructure program.
The Philippines also has the unique opportunity to leverage the tools of sustainability to improve the resilience of people and businesses, he said.
“We actively support the adoption of innovative and sustainable supply chain systems and circular economy models that can systematically collect non-biodegradable packaging and agricultural and industrial waste for recycling and upcycling,” Mr. Marcos said.
Also on Friday, the President said APEC member economies should pay close attention to challenges confronting the region’s services sector, particularly shipping and logistics services, which serve as the backbone of global trade and investment.
“Shipping and logistics services are the backbone of global trade and investment and yet, we have not paid them ample attention,” Mr. Marcos said in his intervention during the APEC Leaders’ Informal Dialogue.
To illustrate his point, the President cited the case of the Philippines where businesses absorb up to 30 percent of costs from logistics alone and has one of the highest rates in the region.
“With logistics being a pivotal part of supply chains, this limits the integration of our products in global value chains and cuts our access to critical raw materials,” Mr. Marcos said.
As a remedy, the President called on governments to eliminate all forms of discrimination, especially for products coming from micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs), adding there are ways to address non-trade and other related measures without depriving businesses and MSMEs of access and participation in supply chains.
There’s a need to work with businesses, especially MSMEs, Mr. Marcos said, to improve their capacity and implement reforms that would foster a competitive environment.
“We look to this forum as a platform to share best practices,” the President said. “By ensuring that our MSMEs participate in global supply chains, we will have diversified our supply sources, we will have enhanced sustainable and inclusive growth, and strengthened the competitiveness of our economies,” he pointed out.
Moreover, Mr. Marcos highlighted the essential role of the maritime crew, the maritime industry, and the transport sector in ensuring robust and resilient global supply chains and post-pandemic recovery.