Defense Minister Liang Guanglie urged the Philippines to show "discreet in both words and deeds" over the Huangyan Island issue and make tangible steps toward regional peace and stability.
Liang made the remarks while meeting his Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin on Monday on the sidelines of the defense ministers' meeting of Southeast Asian countries in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.
It was the first face-to-face talk for the two defense chiefs, and the highest level meeting between officials from both governments to exchange views on bilateral issues since the Huangyan Island incident broke out about two months ago.
"It was the Philippine warship's armed harassment of Chinese fishermen that triggered the Huangyan incident. And actions of the Philippines afterwards further complicated the whole issue, " the defense minister said, reiterating that the island is part of China's inherent territory.
Liang said he hoped Manila could maintain restraint and give priority to the overall situation, urging the Philippine military to "respect China's sovereignty and stop further provocations".
Li Guoqiang, deputy director of the Research Center for Chinese Borderland History and Geography of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told China Daily that Liang is sending important signals through his statement.
"The meeting was held between officials of the highest level. And considering Liang's military duties, his statement indicated China’s intention to solve the dispute through political solutions and also demonstrated our capability to protect territorial integrity."
The defense minister also said as neighboring countries across the sea, China pays great attention to military relations with the Philippines, and it has taken various measures to improve bilateral contacts.
The Philippine defense chief said he appreciated the meeting, and exchanged views on the sensitive bilateral issue with his Chinese counterpart.
Gazmin said the defense departments of both sides should keep communication lines open to seek a peaceful and proper solution.
While tensions still remain high in the South China Sea, the meeting was "a good thing", said Yang Baoyun, a professor of Southeast Asia studies at Peking University, adding that it suggested both sides shared the willingness to ease tension.
"Dialogues between the two defense chiefs prove both sides want to talk to each other. Despite the continuous provocations, Manila actually understands there is no other way but peaceful talks to resolve the issue."
But Yang also warned that Gazmin's call for open communication does not mean Manila's has changed its stance.
The Philippines has not only turned to the United States for support but also expanded military cooperation with countries such as Japan and India. Japan sent two training ships to the Philippines for a four-day port call this week and declared it would provide the country with 10 patrol vessels to bolster its maritime and territorial capabilities before the end of the year.
"Washington does not expect the issue to escalate into an armed conflict, but it will be generous with its support. Japan just wants to use the incident to scatter its pressure in the East China Sea," Yang said.
Defence Minister Liang Guanglie has met with his Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting. Full story
Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie on Tuesday evening held a short consultative meeting with the ASEAN defense ministers to enhance relations and cooperation. Full story