MANILA -- Incoming Philippine President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. is picking up where incumbent Rodrigo Duterte left off by vowing to boost ties with China.
Marcos on Wednesday said diplomatic ties with China are "set to shift to a higher gear" as he proposed to expand bilateral relations amid "minor disagreements."
Marcos, who won the May 9 election in a landslide, held a call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. He said in a statement Xi supports his "independent foreign policy."
"I told him, the way forward is to expand our relationship, not only diplomatic, not only trade, but also in culture, even in education, even in knowledge, even in health to address whatever minor disagreements that we have right now," said Marcos, who is in Australia for a vacation.
The statement did not directly mention the South China Sea territorial dispute, which in recent years has strained bilateral ties. Beijing claims nearly the entire waterway, including areas the Philippines says are part of its territory. Beijing also rejects Manila's 2016 international arbitration victory that voided China's expansive claims over the sea.
"And I told him we must not allow what conflicts or difficulties we have now between our two countries to become historically important," Marcos said.
Since coming to power in 2016, Duterte consistently sought rapprochement with China, prioritizing economic cooperation over the territorial row. The incumbent president also shook up ties with the U.S. At one point he decided to terminate an agreement with Washington that allows the American military to rotate in and out for drills, but later reversed course.
Xi was among the first foreign leaders to congratulate Marcos on his election victory. Marcos held a call with U.S. President Joe Biden last week and Biden said he looked forward to strengthening the U.S.-Philippine alliance and expanding bilateral cooperation.
Marcos said Xi "supports his stance on having an independent foreign policy" and the Chinese leader acknowledged the role of his father Ferdinand Marcos Sr. in the establishment of Philippines-China diplomatic relations in 1975. Marcos Sr., the late dictator, ruled the country from 1965 until his ouster in1986.
"He [Xi] said my father participated in and witnessed the development of China-Philippines relations, called him a builder, supporter, and promoter of the China-Philippines friendship," Marcos said.