Chinese minister Sun Weidong to visit Philippines for talks on South China Sea

·3 min read

China's foreign vice-minister Sun Weidong is set to visit the Philippines later this week to discuss issues including the disputed South China Sea.

The visit takes place after recent moves by Manila to strengthen its ties with the United States amid fears of growing Chinese assertiveness.

Wang Wenbin, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said on Monday that Sun would visit the Southeast Asian country between Wednesday and Friday and meet his Philippine counterpart Theresa Lazaro.

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Wang said the talks will cover the South China Sea and will be the first face-to-face meetings between the two foreign ministries since the Covid-19 pandemic.

Wang said both sides would seek to advance cooperation while "properly handling" maritime disputes, and exchange views on international and regional issues.

"We hope and believe that this visit will enhance mutual understanding and trust, facilitate closer communication and coordination, and galvanise joint efforts to realise the sound and steady growth of bilateral ties," he said.

Sun's trip to Manila comes months after Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr's visit to Beijing in January, where he met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and pledged to "shift the trajectory [of relations] to a higher gear".

The leaders also agreed to set up direct communication channels to handle tensions in the South China Sea.

China claims the vast majority of the resource-rich waterway but the Philippines - along with its Southeast Asian neighbours Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Brunei - contests Beijing's claims.

In 2016, after Manila brought a case against China, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague denied China's claim over the South China Sea, a ruling that Beijing has refused to accept.

Following his meeting with Xi, Marcos told the World Economic Forum in Switzerland he was committed to peace but the South China Sea is something that "keeps you up at night".

Last month the Philippines accused a Chinese coastguard ship of directing lasers at one of its ships and disrupting a supply mission on a disputed reef in the Spratly Islands, prompting Marcos to summon the Chinese ambassador to protest the "increasing frequency and intensity of [China's] actions".

Amid Beijing's growing assertiveness, analysts have suggested that the Marcos administration is more inclined to lean towards the United States.

In February, it expanded a defence pact with Washington that would grant American troops access to additional bases, offering Washington greater oversight over the waters of the South China Sea and around Taiwan.

The Philippines and the US are also set to carry out their biggest-ever joint military drills next month, which will involve over 17,000 personnel and include live-fire exercises in the South China Sea for the first time.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2023 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.