The Philippines and China have agreed to 'de-escalate tensions' in the South China Sea, according to Manila, following a violent clash in the disputed waters. The Philippine Foreign Ministry stated that both countries discussed their positions on Ayungin Shoal and reaffirmed their commitment to reduce tensions without compromising their respective stances, referring to Second Thomas Shoal in the Spratly Islands by its local name.

Last month, Chinese coast guard personnel armed with knives, sticks, and an axe surrounded and boarded three Philippine navy boats near the shoal, marking the latest and most severe incident in a series of escalating confrontations. A Filipino soldier lost a finger during the June 17 clash, and Manila accused the Chinese coast guard of stealing guns, damaging three boats, and destroying navigational and communication equipment. Beijing maintained that its coast guard acted 'professionally and restrained' and faulted Manila for the incident.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Chen Xiaodong engaged in 'frank and constructive discussions,' according to Tuesday's statement. Both sides acknowledged the need to restore trust, rebuild confidence, and create conditions for productive dialogue and interaction, despite significant differences remaining. China asserts nearly all of the South China Sea, disregarding claims from several Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, and an international ruling that its stance lacks legal basis. Chinese forces have previously used water cannons, military-grade lasers, and collided with Filipino resupply vessels and their escorts.

The two countries signed an agreement to enhance the Philippines-China Maritime Communications Mechanism and agreed to continue discussions between their coast guards. They launched the consultative meeting in 2017 to promote peaceful conflict management in the South China Sea. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo recently stated that the Manila meeting aims to establish 'confidence-building measures' that could lay the groundwork for 'more serious discussions.' Manalo emphasized the importance of dialogue and diplomacy, even in the face of serious incidents, during a Philippine Senate public hearing on the Second Thomas Shoal confrontation.