Philippines and China hold 'friendly and candid' talks on South China Sea

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FILE PHOTO: Chinese militia vessels spotted at Sabina Shoal in South China Sea

MANILA (Reuters) - The Philippines and China held "friendly and candid" talks on the South China Sea, the Philippines' foreign ministry said on Saturday, days after the minister ordered Chinese vessels out of the disputed waterway in an expletive-laced tweet.

The presence of hundreds Chinese vessels inside the Philippines 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) has been the latest source of tensions between the two countries in the South China Sea, through which $3 trillion worth of goods pass every year.

The Philippines said the encroaching vessels were manned by militia, while Beijing said they were fishing boats sheltering from bad weather.

"The two sides had friendly and candid exchanges on the general situation and specific issues of concern in the South China Sea," under a bilateral consultation mechanism convened in 2016 to ease tensions in the strategic waterway, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement.

"There was mutual recognition of the importance of dialogue in easing tensions and understanding each country's position and intentions in the area," the DFA said.

Earlier this month, Philippines Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin likened China to "an ugly oaf" for its behaviour in the waterway.

"China, my friend, how politely can I put it? Let me see… O…GET THE FUCK OUT," Locsin tweeted on his personal account.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who prefers to not provoke Beijing and wants to tap it for loans and investment, barred his ministers from talking about the South China Sea situation in public after the outburst.

Also discussed during Friday's dialogue was the row over the June 2019 sinking of a Philippine fishing boat by a Chinese fishing vessel that abandoned the Filipino fishermen in the South China Sea. The Philippine justice ministry will seek compensation for the victims, the DFA said.

Despite recent tensions, ties between the Philippines and China have improved under Duterte, who described the 2016 arbitration ruling on the South China Sea that went in Philippines' favour as just a "piece of paper" he could throw in the trash.

But the Philippines reiterated its call on Beijing to respect international law, including the arbitral ruling during the talks, the DFA said.

(Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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