PHNOM PENH, Cambodia—South China Sea must not be the source of conflict but of economic engagements and interactions for claiming countries and for the world.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. made this encouraging yet strong statement on the hotly-disputed waters as he faced Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, along with other world leaders, including US President Joe Biden, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Kate Ardern, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, India Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar, South Korea President Yoon Sukyeol and Australia Prime Minister Anthony Norman Albanese, on the last day of ASEAN Summits.

In his intervention at the 17th East Asia Summit on Sunday, Marcos said the world must ensure that the South China Sea “remains a sea of peace, a sea of security and stability, and of prosperity.”

But he cited the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and international law as the basis for the South China Sea to be “a nexus of vibrant economic engagements and interactions” and “not an epicenter of armed conflict or geopolitical maneuverings.”

UNCLOS is the basis of the 2016 Arbitral Ruling in The Hague, which turned in favor of the Philippines in terms of its claim over the South China Sea.

Marcos, who in his first State of the Nation Address vowed not to give up even an inch of the country’s territory, made a pronouncement that was in stark contrast to his predecessor’s stance.

During his term, former president Rodrigo Duterte had been given a more friendly approach to the issue.

Had he met President Xi Jinping here, Marcos would have brought his take on the South China Sea.

“It’s impossible for me to talk to China without mentioning that,” he said.

Premier Li, in a brief chat with Marcos on Saturday, said he looks forward to working with the Philippines and other countries in ASEAN for peace and stability in the South China Sea on the basis of mutual respect and respect for the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and international laws.”

In his intervention speeches in various summits here, Marcos called on his fellow leaders to ensure peace and stability in the region. But he also welcomed strengthened cooperation on defense, maritime security and military.

“The Philippines will always welcome engagements with states and organizations that have adopted the policies of ASEAN Centrality, focusing on the priority areas of cooperation of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, particularly, in our case, maritime cooperation,” he said.

Marcos cited Quad’s support for the ASEAN Centrality. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) is a strategic security dialogue between Australia, India, Japan, and the United States, which is widely viewed as a response to increased Chinese economic and military power.

“The Philippines, as an archipelagic country with porous maritime borders, considers maritime cooperation as a key priority in bilateral and multilateral cooperation and engagements, specifically in the South China Sea,” Marcos added in his interventio.