Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos said Wednesday he hoped to strengthen ties with Beijing on his first state visit to China since taking office.

China and the Philippines are at odds over the hotly disputed South China Sea, with Marcos expected to sign a deal in Beijing this week to establish direct communication on maritime issues.

National flags of the Philippines and China near Tiananmen Gate in Beijing
The national flags of the Philippines and China are seen together near the Tiananmen Gate as Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr visits, in Beijing on January 3, 2023. Photo: Noel Celis/AFP.

Manila considers it “of primary importance to… strengthen the relationship between China and the Philippines”, Marcos said in a meeting on Wednesday with top Chinese legislator Li Zhanshu.

Marcos, who is also expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, said he hoped for “partnerships that will stabilise and strengthen all of our economies”.

Up to 14 bilateral agreements are expected to be signed during Marcos’s visit, which ends on Thursday.

The Philippine government said last week both sides would sign a communication agreement to “avoid miscalculation and miscommunication in the West Philippine Sea”, referring to the part of the South China Sea that it claims.

Marcos has insisted he will not let China trample on the Philippines’ maritime rights in the area — in contrast to his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who was reluctant to criticise the superpower.

The Philippines ordered its military last month to boost its presence in the contested waters after a Bloomberg report that China had started reclaiming several unoccupied land features around the Spratly Islands.

Beijing claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has ignored an international court ruling that its claims have no legal basis.

The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of it.

Marcos said on Tuesday before leaving for China he hoped to address “political security issues of a bilateral and regional nature”.

“The issues between our two countries are problems that do not belong between two friends,” he said.

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