June 15, 2023
MANILA — A Chinese naval ship has made its way to the Philippines, not to encroach on the country’s waters but to pay a “friendly” visit.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy training ship Qi Jiguang (Hull 83) was given an enthusiastic welcome by the Philippine Navy, Chinese Embassy officials, and members of the Chinese-Filipino community, as it docked at Manila South Harbor for a rare port visit on Wednesday.
“It’s a goodwill visit,” Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian told reporters.
A marching band and lion dancers greeted the crew of Qi Jiguang, while Filipino sailors and other guests waved Philippine and Chinese flags.
Chinese-Filipino guests included students from different schools and business representatives from the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc.
“Even Mountains and Oceans Cannot Separate People with Shared Goals and Vision,” read a banner displayed outside the ship’s bridge deck for guests to see.
The jovial mood on land was in stark contrast to the often tense encounters between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the West Philippine Sea, where the former have repeatedly harassed Filipino crews.
Beijing has militarized and continues to occupy parts of the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea, or the waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone.
Chinese coast guard or navy vessels routinely block or shadow Philippine ships carrying out supply missions to islands in the disputed sea that host Philippine garrisons, according to Manila.
In February, Manila accused a Chinese ship of shining a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard boat escorting a supply vessel to the Spratly Islands.
But such maritime tensions were temporarily cast aside on Wednesday for the final leg in Manila of the Qi Jiguang’s 40-day regional tour that included stops in Vietnam, Thailand, and Brunei.
It will be in the country until Saturday, according to the Chinese Embassy.
Over the next few days, Chinese officers and cadets will visit a Philippine Navy ship and conduct a passing exercise. They are also scheduled to take part in friendship sports matches. Larger and heavier than any Philippine Navy or Coast Guard ship, the 165-meter, 9,000-ton Qi Jiguang is manned by 476 crew members, including trainees. It boasts a maximum speed of 22 knots.
Guests and media crews were allowed to board the PLA ship for a short tour of the deck on Wednesday.
For a limited viewing time, it will be open to the public at Pier 15 on Thursday and Friday. Visitors should bring valid IDs, the embassy said.
The ship’s visit is the first under President Marcos. Chinese navy ships last visited the country in 2017 and 2019 under then President Rodrigo Duterte, who, while being hostile to the United States, fostered warm ties with China in exchange for trade and investment pledges.
Duterte had personally welcomed and boarded three Chinese vessels, including a destroyer and a frigate that docked in his hometown of Davao City in 2017.
In 2019 three more Chinese navy vessels, including two missile frigates, were welcomed to Manila by Philippine officials.
Under Mr. Marcos, Manila has strengthened its alliance with Washington and has vowed that the country “will not lose an inch” of territory as unease grows in the region over Chinese maritime activities.
The President said last week, however, that the Philippines had not shifted away from China. “As to the differences between China and the Philippines, certainly they exist, but it is not something that will define our relationship,” he said.
On Friday, National Security Adviser Eduardo Año will meet with his American and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo for the first trilateral meeting of its kind among the three allies.
Año will meet with Jake Sullivan of the United States and Takeo Akiba of Japan on “a wide range of issues in the region and the international community,” the Japanese Embassy in Manila said on Wednesday.
The meeting takes place days after the coast guards of the three countries wrapped up their first-ever joint exercises in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippines, the United States, and Japan also held their inaugural quadrilateral defense ministerial meeting with Australia earlier this month on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.