Palace: China wary of US naval exercises during Xi’s PH visit

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 09 2018 03:45 PM

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony held in Beijing, China October 20, 2016. Ng Han Guan, Reuters

MANILA - China has expressed concern over the United States' plan to hold naval exercises in the disputed South China Sea, which will supposedly coincide with the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to the Philippines in November, Malacañang said Tuesday.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua expressed such concern to President Rodrigo Duterte during a courtesy call at the Palace on Monday afternoon.

“China expressed concern over a naval military exercise that the US will be conducting in the area at about the same time the Chinese president will be in the Philippines,” Roque said in a Palace press briefing.

Roque added that Duterte assured Zhao that “we will not take part in that military exercises.”

The Presidential Spokesperson did not specify which “area” the US would supposedly hold naval exercises, but a CNN report said the US Navy's Pacific Fleet has drawn up a proposal to conduct a series of operations in the disputed sea as well as the Taiwan Strait during one week in November.

Xi is set to visit the Philippines after attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Papua New Guinea next month. 

Roque said the Philippine government would ensure that Xi’s visit would be “fruitful” and “seamless.”

The US is not a claimant state to the South China Sea, but it regards the vital sealane as international waters where freedom of navigation and overflight must be recognized and respected. 

The US regularly conducts freedom of navigation and overflight operations in the disputed waters, earning the ire of Beijing which regards almost the entire sea as its own.

Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has sought to forge friendlier ties with China, following years of animosity between Beijing and Manila at the time of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III. 

The President has also sought to downplay Manila’s maritime dispute with Beijing in exchange for better economic ties.

China has ignored the Philippines' landmark July 2016 victory before an international tribunal, which invalidated Beijing's excessive claims in the South China Sea. 

It has instead ramped up militarization and island-building activities in the waters.