(Bloomberg) -- China struck a cordial tone in talks with the Philippines on Thursday, seeking “friendly consultation” to settle dispute as South China Sea tensions rise and the US strengthens ties with its longstanding ally.

“We need to keep to the general direction of friendly relations between our two countries,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong said in Manila at the start of two-day diplomatic talks. China and the Philippines should “deepen comprehensive strategic cooperation” and work together towards development, he said.

Discussions are being held as relations between the two nations show signs of strain, with Manila calling Beijing’s attention to “unauthorized presence” of dozens of Chinese naval and coast guard vessels in its territorial waters in the past months. 

At the same time, the Southeast Asian nation has given US greater access to military bases that are near Taiwan as well as to disputed territories. Joint patrols and bigger military drills between the two nations are also in the works.

Beijing has criticized the Philippines-US deal, with its embassy in Manila describing it as part of America’s attempt to “encircle and contain” while “driving a wedge” between the two Asian nations whose ties warmed during the term of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s predecessor.

Still, Marcos is pursuing oil and gas exploration talks with Beijing in the South China Sea, which he agreed to resume when he met with President Xi Jinping earlier this year. The Philippine leader is also pushing for greater infrastructure and agriculture ties with China.

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