The presidents of China and the Philippines agreed to strengthen cooperation and discuss maritime differences amicably after meeting in Beijing January 4, according to Chinese state media. 

“China is willing to properly handle maritime issues with the Philippines side through friendly consultation, and restart negotiations on oil and gas exploration,” China Central Television quoted President Xi Jinping as saying.
The two countries plan to also expand cooperation in agriculture, infrastructure and culture, CCTV reported following Xi’s meeting with Ferdinand Marcos Jr. 

Marcos’s visit comes amid renewed tension between the nations over territorial claims in the South China Sea. 

Bloomberg News reported in December that China is building up several unoccupied land features, prompting the Chinese Foreign Ministry to say “the relevant report is purely made out of thin air.”

The Philippines later ordered an increased military presence in the contested waters and urged China to “refrain from acts that will exacerbate tensions” in the area.

The Southeast Asian nation has also expressed “great concern” over gatherings of Chinese vessels closer to its western coast. The U.S. State Department backed Manila’s call for Beijing to respect international law.

Xi told Marcos that the two countries should work to “safeguard the central role of Asean” in regional development and avoid confrontation among blocs, suggesting concern about American influence in the region.

Read more: Taiwan Tensions Raise Risks in One of Busiest Shipping Lanes

Marcos’s government has ramped up diplomatic protests against China and fostered closer ties with the U.S. that were undermined by his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte. During a meeting with Marcos in September, President Joe Biden reaffirmed his country’s “ironclad commitment” to defend the Philippines.

Still, the Philippines is seeking loans from Beijing for infrastructure projects and Marcos has called China the country’s strongest partner in pandemic recovery. He had already expressed an openness to renew talks with Beijing on South China Sea oil exploration. On January 4, he said Chinese tourists are welcome in the Philippines.