Personnel of a Philippine Coast Guard ship prepare to conduct a survey in the waters of Second Thomas Shoal in the disputed South China Sea on April 23, 2023


  • A Chinese Embassy counselor said the maritime issue is "only a very small part" of China-Philippines ties
  • Ji Lingpeng said China's Xi Jinping and Philippines' Ferdinand Marcos Jr. have agreed to solve the maritime issues
  • The Philippine Coast Guard debunked claims that China removed its buoys in the South China Sea

An official of the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines downplayed the two countries' maritime issues in the South China Sea.

Ji Lingpeng, the counselor of the Chinese Embassy in Manila, told reporters Monday that Chinese-Philippine bilateral ties remain strong despite the two countries' territorial disputes in the contested waters.

"The South China Sea issue is only a very small part of our bilateral relations. We have a lot of cooperation to enhance, especially in the era of post-COVID," Ji said during the Award for Promoting Philippines-China Understanding press conference, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The official also said that Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. have "reached a consensus" and agreed to solve the maritime problems between the two countries diplomatically.

"President Xi Jinping and I has [sic] reached a consensus on the maritime problems in a friendly way with consultations and exchanges. I think under the leadership of our two presidents, we may find a good way to settle all these problems," Ji was quoted as saying by the outlet.

This comes after a Chinese online news outlet claimed that "all" the navigational buoys installed by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in the West Philippine Sea, the part of the South China Sea the Philippines claims, were removed by Chinese fishermen whom the Chinese Coast Guard guarded.

According to Sohu News, the Chinese People's Liberation Army allegedly "counterattacked immediately" against the Philippines' move to install buoys by deploying a "large number of coast guard ships, fishing boats and warships" around the islands claimed by China in the South China Sea.

"Under the protection of Chinese coast guard boats, Chinese fishermen fished out all the buoys deployed by the Philippines, which made the Philippine coast guard feel angry and helpless," the Chinese news website reported.

However, Jay Tarriela, PCG's spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, debunked the Chinese news report, saying that all 10 of their buoys were still in the area.

"The PCG's 10 buoys, which were dropped in the West Philippines Sea, remain in their designated locations," Tarriela told ABS-CBN News in a text message.

Last month, the Philippines began ramping up its stakes in the highly-disputed waters by placing five navigational buoys carrying its national flag within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The PCG placed the buoys in five areas within the 200-mile zone, including the Whitsun Reef, locally known as Julian Felipe, where hundreds of Chinese maritime vessels were spotted in 2021.

The Philippines previously installed buoys in its four islands in the South China Sea last year: Lawak (Nanshan), Likas (West York), Parola (Northeast Cay) and Pag-asa (Thitu).

According to PCG Vice Admiral Joseph Coyme, the Philippines will file a protest if foreign countries attempt to remove any of its buoys.

Coyme added they will install six more buoys later this year to constantly assert the country's sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea.

China continues to assert its sovereignty in almost the entirety of the South China Sea, including the Spratly Islands, despite an international ruling in 2016 quashing its claims.

A Philippine coast guard ship sails past a Chinese coast guard ship near Scarborough shoal in the South China Sea in May 2019
A file picture of a Philippine coast guard ship sailing past a Chinese coast guard ship in the South China Sea AFP / TED ALJIBE