China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang flies to the Philippines on Friday for a three-day official visit and meeting with his Filipino counterpart as Beijing and Manila keep their relations warm amid their continued differences, especially over the South China Sea.
Qin, China’s concurrent State Councilor, will have a meeting with Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo to exchange views on the outcomes of the recent Philippines-China Foreign Ministry Consultations and Bilateral Consultations Mechanism on the South China Sea held in Manila in March.
“The official visit continues the series of high-level interactions between the Philippines and China in 2023, following President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s state visit to China in early January,” the DFA said in a statement.
It will be Qin and Manalo’s first in-person meeting, where they are expected to “discuss ways forward in the implementation of the agreements reached” during Mr. Marcos and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s bilateral talks.
“Both sides will discuss increasing and strengthening cooperation in agriculture, trade, energy, infrastructure, and people-to-people relations, among others,” DFA added.
Manalo and Qin are also expected to discuss regional security issues of mutual concern, the DFA said, despite Beijing’s continued aggressive activities in the West Philippine Sea and the South China Sea, which other countries saw as a threat against peace and stability in the region.
The visit coincidentally followed Manalo’s recent high-level engagements with the officials of the US, China’s main rival, in Washington, D.C., wherein Manila and Washington bolstered their military alliance in response to China’s aggression in the waters, among other reasons.
“Qin’s visit will be his first official engagement with the Philippines since his appointment as both Foreign Minister and State Councilor in December 2022 and early March 2023, respectively,” the DFA said.
China has strongly opposed a decision by the Marcos administration to grant US military forces access to additional sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in northern Luzon, which Chinese officials said will be used by the US to possibly intervene in the Taiwan issue.
Chinese Foreign Ministry officials warned that granting greater access to US troops in the Philippines endangers regional peace and security, as they cited concerns by unidentified “many insightful people in the Philippines” that such move could draw the country “into the whirlpool of a potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait.”
The announcement of Qin’s visit coincided with a prayer rally by some 7,000 Cagayanos in Tuguegarao City, the provincial capital, organized by the Prayer for peace Cagayan Movement which opposes the establishment of the facilities.
China, which considers Taiwan as part of its territory it envisions to reclaim by force “if necessary,” opposes any high-level contacts with the island and called on countries to adhere to the One-China Policy.
Three of the four additional EDCA locations facing Taiwan are Naval Base Camilo Osias in Sta. Ana in Cagayan, Lal-lo Airport also in Cagayan, and Camp Melchor Dela Cruz in Gamu, Isabela.
The fourth site is in Balabac Island in Palawan, the island province closest to the disputed Spratlys in the West Philippine Sea, where China and the Philippines have long had overlapping claims.
Tuao Mayor William Mamba expressed his concern over the EDCA sites’ construction, emphasizing the harm it would do to the Cagayano populace ion the event of a conflict in the Taiwan Strait.
“We plead for a miracle that President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. may alter his mind about EDCA,” Mamba said.
Mayor Isidro Cabaddu of Camalaniugan also expressed his displeasure over the development of the US facility in Lal-lo which is near his town.
Governor Manuel Mamba remarked at the prayer gathering that “EDCA is just war” amid rising tensions between China and Taiwan, which is just 200 kilometers from the province.
“We want Cagayan to be the center of agro-industrial hubs in the international port, not the center of foreign military bases whose clear objective is to enable war between America and China,” he said.
Foreign investors from China, South Korea, Japan, and even Taiwan will be wary of investing in Cagayan out of concern that it will turn into a stronghold in America’s battle, Mamba said.
Mayor Leonel Guzman of the town of Piat said: “My presence alone would be sufficient to show that I oppose EDCA.”
“We were very fortunate we had a governor who can stand for what is right for the province,” he said.
“Thank you for being there, governor, and standing for what you believe is good for every Cagayano,” Guzman said.
Mayor Nelson Robinion, who is worried about the EDCA facility being built in Sta. Ana, also supported Mamba.
Robinion lamented that, like the governor, he had never been informed of any EDCA intentions or activities in the area.
Board Member Rodrigo De Asis urged each one to pray and stand in solidarity with the governor as he struggles to block US access to the province.
All other officials who spoke publicly expressed their dismay over the EDCA and resistance to its development, stressing the detrimental consequences it will have on the Cagayano populace.
Dr. Susan Perez-Mari from the University of Cagayan Valley, Mr. Christian Tutu Guzman from the Medical Colleges of Northern Philippines, Mr. PJ Lappay from Saint Paul University, a senior citizens association representative, and Board Member Christian Ursua from the Sangguniang Kabataan also delivered remarks.
Also included are the barangay officials of Amulung East and Tuao; SB Members of Pamplona, Claveria, and Tuao; delegates from Baggao, Iguig, Piat, and Tuguegarao City; Agkaykaysa Members of Peñablanca Members from Peñablanca.
It includes agriculture sector, women sector, academe civil society group, senior citizen’s group, youth sector, and ecumenical group.
To promote community harmony and peace, Clarita Lunas, one of the convenors, said they planned a prayer rally after learning that two EDCA sites were scheduled in Cagayan: one at the Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana and one at the Lal-lo Airport.
In other developments:
— One of the Philippine Air Force’s Bell 412 combat utility helicopters served as aerial platform for the troops participating in the gas-oil platform takedown exercises off Matinloc in El Nido, Palawan.
PAF spokesperson Col. Ma. Consuelo Castillo said the exercise’s objective was to develop mutual defense capability and strengthen the country’s maritime security.
The helicopter was from the 205th Tactical Helicopter Wing and deployed to help in executing the so-called fast rope insertion and extraction system (FRIES) last April 16.
“FRIES” is a specialized mechanical system that enables rapid tactical insertion and extraction of personnel in areas where helicopter landings are not permissible.
“The demonstration involved the protection of a retired Matinloc platform, which served as a stand-in for the Malampaya platform. The Bell 412 helicopter facilitated the vertical insertion of the elite assault troops from the Naval Special Operations Unit (NAVSOU) through ‘FRIES’,” she added.
Participants in the GOPLAT exercises also included the Philippine Navy and were witnessed by US military counterparts as observers.