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China and Philippines assess ties

Tan KW
Publish date: Fri, 24 Mar 2023, 10:05 AM
Tan KW
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Senior Chinese and Filipino diplomats met in Manila to review their relations amid thorny issues, including Beijing’s alarm over a Philippine decision to allow the US military to expand its presence to a northern region facing the Taiwan Strait and escalating spats in the disputed South China Sea.

Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Sun Weidong and Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro led the talks aimed at assessing overall relations yesterday.

The discussions would focus on the long-seething territorial spats in the disputed waterway, the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said.

The talks opened with diplomatic pleasantries and handshakes in front of the media without any mention of the sensitive issue.

But during the closed-door meeting, the Chinese delegation expressed their strong opposition to the US military presence in the Philippines, a Filipino official said without elaborating.

The official, who attended the meeting, spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to discuss what transpired in the talks.

The back-to-back meetings are the first under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who took office in June last year.

He met Chinese President Xi Jinping in a state visit to Beijing in January where both agreed to expand ties, pursue talks on potential joint oil and gas explorations and manage territorial disputes amicably.

But the territorial conflicts have persisted as a major irritant in relations early in the six-year term of Marcos, whose administration has filed at least 77 of more than 200 diplomatic protests by the Philippines against China’s actions in the disputed waters since last year alone.

That included a Feb 6 incident when a Chinese coastguard ship aimed a military-grade laser that briefly blinded some crew members of a Philippine patrol vessel off a disputed shoal.

Marcos summoned the Chinese ambassador to Manila to express concern over the incident, but Beijing said the Philippine vessel intruded into Chinese territorial waters and its coastguard used a harmless laser gadget to monitor the vessel’s movement.

Early last month, the Marcos administration announced it would allow rotating batches of American forces to indefinitely station in four more Philippine military camps.

Those are in addition to five local bases earlier designated under a 2014 defence pact between the longtime treaty allies.

Marcos said on Wednesday that the four new military sites would include areas in the northern Philippines. That location has infuriated Chinese officials because it would provide US forces a staging ground close to southern China and Taiwan.

The Americans would also have access to military areas on the western Philippine island province of Palawan, Marcos said, adding that the US military presence under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was aimed at boosting coastal defence.

When asked to react to the Philippine decision, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told a news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday that defence cooperation between countries “needs to be conducive to regional peace and stability and not targeted at or harmful to the interests of any third party”.

 - AP

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