MANILA - Three Chinese warships have docked here for a goodwill visit, in what a Chinese official said is part of a "new era" of ties between Beijing and Manila.
Thursday's goodwill visit is part of "the new era, with strategic guidance of Presidents Xi Jinping and Duterte, opening a new chance for China-Philippine relations," Rear Admiral Xu Haihua, deputy chief of staff of China North Sea Fleet, said in a speech.
The visit is only the second ever port call of China in the Philippines. Both visits were under Duterte's administration.
The frigates typically patrol the Gulf of Aden, a perilous route besieged by Somali pirates. From China and back, the ships pass through the West Philippine Sea, where Manila and Beijing have competing claims.
A UN-backed tribunal in 2016 junked China's expansive claims to the strategic waterway. President Rodrigo Duterte however refused to flaunt the ruling as he wooed Beijing for grants and investments, while moving away from its rival Washington, Manila's longtime ally.
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The Chinese frigate WuHu, one of 3 ships participating in Beijing's goodwill visit, arrives at the port of Manila. ABS-CBN News
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Flat enclosures hold 32 missiles aboard Wu Hu. ABS-CBN News
The warships were welcomed by a Filipino-Chinese throng, the arrival of whom caused confusion as it was not coordinated with Philippine Navy and port authorities.
The Chinese Navy did not grant interviews.
Its visit comes some 2 months after Xi's state visit to Manila, where he and Duterte signed 29 deals, including a memorandum of understanding on the cooperation on oil and gas development.
China has dispersed tens of billions of dollars in loans since 2013 as it expanded its political influence globally, countering the American hegemony that characterized the post-World War II order, especially in Asia.
Public opinion is largely supportive of Duterte's presidency but surveys consistently show reservations about his China policy and disdain for the US.
In a Pulse Asia survey released earlier this week, 84 percent of respondents said the government should trust the US, while 60 percent expressed distrust towards China.
A Social Weather Stations survey in November 2018, meanwhile, showed showed 84 percent of Filipinos felt it was wrong not to oppose China's militarization of its man-made islands, and 86 percent believed it was right to strengthen the Philippine military, especially the navy.
With a report from Agence France-Presse