MANILA—The Philippines' chief diplomat and 3 other Southeast Asian foreign ministers will be visiting China from March 31 to April 2, China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Locsin's trip comes amid the continuing presence of Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying, during her regular press conference on Tuesday, said Singapore's Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan, Malaysian Foreign Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Locsin will be visiting China at the invitation of Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Locsin has yet to confirm the development.
Hua said the visit is expected to strengthen the ties between China and the member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of China-ASEAN relations.
The Philippines has protested the presence of around 200 Chinese vessels at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) since March 7, and demanded that China withdraw them.
Retired Philippine Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio warned it could lead to occupation and building of a naval base on the reef as China did on Mischief Reef in 1995.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila denied allegations the vessels are part of Beijing's militia, describing them as fishing vessels taking shelter due to “rough sea conditions.” It also insisted that the reef is part of their territory.
The United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and United Kingdom have expressed their concern over the Chinese incursion in the West Philippine Sea.
China's sweeping claims in the South China Sea, of which the West Philippine Sea is a part, had been invalidated by a United Nations-backed arbitration court in 2016.
China has been criticized for aggressively asserting its claims in the marine resources- and energy-rich waterways, and militarizing features there.
China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines and Brunei all claim parts of the South China Sea.