China on Friday said it will “properly handle" maritime disputes with nations surrounding the South China Sea as the US president and his Philippine counterpart reaffirmed their support for freedom of navigation in the disputed waters.
“China will continue to properly handle maritime disputes with countries directly concerned, including the Philippines, through dialogue and consultation, and work with ASEAN countries to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China’s Foreign Ministry, told a news briefing.
Joe Biden and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met on Thursday on the sidelines of the ongoing UN General Assembly in New York.
“The leaders discussed the situation in the South China Sea and underscored their support for freedom of navigation and overflight and the peaceful resolution of disputes,” said a readout from the White House.
China claims most of the sea as its own, but the US, which accuses Beijing of “provocations,” and surrounding countries including the Philippines, disagree.
The US regularly deploys its warships and air force in the region under the notion of "freedom of navigation."
In a veiled reference to the US, Wang urged the countries from outside the region to “respect the efforts” of regional countries to maintain peace and stability.
"There has been no problem with freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. China always respects and supports the freedom of navigation and overflight enjoyed by all countries in the South China Sea in accordance with international law,” Wang said.
The Philippines won a case at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016, which invalidated China's claims over the sea.
Marcos, in comments to media ahead of his meeting with Biden, said the role of the US “in maintaining the peace in our region is something that is much appreciated by all the countries in the regions and the Philippines especially.”
Calling South China Sea a “critical global throughway,” Biden said he had spent a lot of time with leaders in the region including China’s President Xi Jinping “about the international waters and how they have to be respected.”