Chinese defence minister Wei Fenghe met his Philippine counterpart Delfin Lorenzana, as well as President Duterte in Manila on Friday.
Manila is Wei’s fourth stop after a string of visits to three other Southeast Asian countries – Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Analysts said the purpose of China’s outreach to these ASEAN member countries was to counter the US influence in the region.
Wei delivered a three-point agenda for the meeting which consisted firstly of China’s pledge to donate US$20 million worth of non-combat equipment to the Philippines, secondly for closer military cooperation, and thirdly for continued dialogue between the two nations to manage the South China Sea dispute.
Both the Philippine and Chinese defence ministers held a ceremonial signing of the agreement at Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine military headquarters, for the most recent donation comprising of equipment to be used for humanitarian and disaster relief operations. This is the fourth occasion since 2017 that Beijing has made a donation to the Philippines.
In May this year, Beijing sent US$292,000 worth of medical aid to Manila, and last year Beijing sent US$30.8 million worth of engineering equipment to the Philippine military.
The Chinese defence ministry issued a statement that quoted President Duterte saying the high-level meeting with Wei’s delegation was the first in Manila since the COVID-19 pandemic, which showed Beijing’s interest in maintaining good Sino-Philippine ties.
It went on to mention the Chinese military’s willingness to strengthen ties with its Philippine counterpart, as maintaining the stability of the South China Sea was a shared responsibility of both countries. The statement also highlighted that consultations and dialogues should be the way to settle the ongoing South China Sea disputes.
The Philippine defence minister’s office issued a statement that said Wei and Lorenzana will continue to review and revise the 2004 Philippines-China MOU (memorandum of understanding) on defence cooperation, thus paving the way for “more personnel exchanges, training, and better communications channels” between the two nations.
Control of the South China Sea is one sore point of contention in the ongoing US-China spat, the other being the fact that the US sees China as a rival for world economic dominance. This was the message relayed by US secretary of state Mike Pompeo on Wednesday to participants at the ASEAN annual summit and other regional partners, one of which is China. As expected, Pompeo’s remarks drew criticism from China’s foreign minister Wang Yi.
The 10-country ASEAN bloc remained impartial in a way, as they maintained their stance to consider the importance of having both the US and China as economic trading partners whilst maintaining stability in the region, though in recent months they have been vocal with their objections to Beijing’s claims in the South China Sea.
ASEAN member states issued a joint statement on Thursday that said, “Concerns were expressed by some ministers on the land reclamations, activities, and serious incidents in the area, which have eroded trust and confidence, increased tensions, and may undermine peace, security, and stability in the region”.
The ASEAN members are currently in negotiations to draft a code of conduct in the South China Sea, which will adhere to international law and will also incorporate the UN Convention for the Law of the Sea.
An updated statement from the Philippine defence department highlighted that Wei and Lorenzana discussed “how to avoid misunderstanding and to resolve differences amicably” over the South China Sea. Both parties agreed that “peace and stability should be maintained” in the waterway, and touched on an early finalization of a code of conduct for the disputed sea area.
The Philippine defence minister was optimistic that the meeting would “advance mutual trust for future exchanges on matters of security and mutual concern”.
12th September 2020 20:00