23 March 2023: Chinese diplomats voiced their strong opposition to an expanded US military presence in the Philippines in closed-door talks with their Philippine counterparts in Manila on Thursday, a Philippine official said, underscoring the intense US-China rivalry in the region.
A Philippine official who attended the meeting spoke of China’s strong objections on condition of anonymity because of a lack of authority to discuss what happened at the start of the two-day talks.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Sun Weidong and Philippine Deputy Foreign Minister Theresa Lazar held talks aimed at assessing the overall relationship between the two sides amid burning issues, including Beijing’s concern over the Philippines’ decision to allow the US military to expand its presence in the northern region, which faces the Taiwan Strait and escalating rifts in the South China Sea.
According to the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila, discussions on Friday will focus on long-standing territorial disputes in the disputed waterway.
The follow-up meetings are the first under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who took office in June last year. In January, he met Chinese President Xi Jinping on a state visit to Beijing, where the two agreed to expand ties, discuss potential joint oil and gas exploration and amicably resolve territorial disputes.
Early last month, the Marcos administration announced it would allow rotating groups of US forces to be stationed indefinitely in four other Philippine military camps. These are in addition to the five local bases previously designated under a 2014 defense pact between the longtime treaty allies.
The Philippines’ Marcos defends the US military presence, which China opposes
Marcos said on Wednesday that the four new military posts will include areas in the northern Philippines. The location infuriated Chinese officials because it would give US forces a base near southern China and Taiwan.
The Americans would also have access to military areas on the western Philippine island province of Palawan, Marcos said, adding that the US military presence under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement was aimed at strengthening coastal defenses.
Palawan faces the South China Sea, a key passage for global trade that Beijing claims virtually all of, but a U.N.-backed arbitration tribunal ruled in 2016 that the historic claim had no legal basis under the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea.