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Philippines, China call for restraint in South China Sea

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before a meeting at the Great Hall of People in Beijing, China, April 25, 2019. (File photo by Reuters)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping underscore restraint to maintain peace in the South China Sea amid ramped up tensions in the strategic waterway.

“The leaders stressed the need to exert all efforts to maintain peace, security and stability in the South China Sea by exercising restraint, dissipating tensions and working on a mutually agreeable framework for functional cooperation,” Manila’s presidential office said in a statement on Saturday, a day after the two leaders held an hour-long telephone summit discussing a wide array of issues.

The two sides equally expressed commitment to broadening the space for positive engagement, the existing disputes notwithstanding, the office said. They spoke of the importance of keeping up discussions on the code of conduct at the South China Sea.

On Ukraine, the two leaders called for a peaceful settlement of conflict through dialogue.

Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has pursued warmer ties with Beijing, setting aside a longstanding territorial spat over the South China Sea in exchange for billions of dollars of aid, loans and investment pledges. The 77-year-old president is set to end his single six-year term in June.

China claims the South China Sea in its entirety. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Brunei have overlapping claims to parts of the waters. The United States, however, sides with Beijing’s rival claimants in the dispute.

Washington routinely sends warships and warplanes to the South China Sea to assert what it terms its “right” to “freedom of navigation.”

China has always warned the US against military activities in the sea. Beijing says potential close military encounters between the air and naval forces of the two countries in the region may cause accidents.

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