BEIJING/MANILA -- The Philippines and China have reportedly agreed to establish an intergovernmental body to promote joint exploration of oil and natural gas in the South China Sea.
The deal came during a visit by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to China amid rising maritime tensions between the two nations.
The trip -- Duterte's fifth to China since taking office -- has been closely watched to see how strongly he would press Xi on the two countries' territorial dispute in response to the sinking of a Philippine fishing boat.
Xi said at the meeting that "as long as the two sides handle the South China Sea issue properly, the atmosphere of bilateral ties will be sound," according to China's state-run Xinhua News Agency.
China and the Philippines can take "a bigger step" forward on joint offshore oil and gas development, Xi also said.
The report suggests both governments sought to maintain a cordial mood at the summit by playing up economic cooperation.
The two leaders agreed in November 2018 to pursue joint energy projects in the South China Sea, a body of water intersected by rival territorial claims. The Philippine side has called on China for cooperation on this agreement.
Duterte is under pressure at home to stand up to Beijing after a Chinese ship accidentally sank a Philippine fishing ship in June. Salvador Panelo, the presidential spokesman, said before Duterte's visit that the president would bring up the 2016 ruling by an international tribunal rejecting China's territorial claims in the South China Sea.
According to the Philippine government, Duterte and Xi agreed at Thursday's meeting to deepen ties in education, science and technology and other areas. No mention was made of whether the Philippine president raised the South China Sea issue.
China's Liu Zhenmin, the vice-foreign minister at the time of the arbitration ruling, vowed never to enforce the decision, describing it as "nothing but a scrap of paper."