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China training vessel in PH for 3-day ‘goodwill visit’

A Chinese navy training vessel berthed in the Philippines on Wednesday for a rare port visit as the two countries contest reefs and waters in the South China Sea.

Dragon dances and a brass band greeted the 165-meter (542-foot) Qi Jiguang in Manila to mark its final stop on a Southeast Asian tour through Vietnam, Thailand and Brunei.

“It’s a goodwill visit,” Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian told reporters.

Comissioned in 2017, the ship “conveys the concept of mutual trust concerning China’s peaceful development,” read a leaflet distributed by its crew to visitors.

FRIENDLY VISIT. Members of the Philippine Navy wave Chinese and Philippine flags as they welcome the Chinese naval training ship ‘Qi Jiguang’ at Pier 15 in Manila on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, for a three day port call. Danny Pata

Beijing claims most of the strategic South China Sea including waters close to Philippine shores, ignoring a 2016 international tribunal ruling that voided its claims.

Chinese coast guard or navy vessels routinely block or shadow Philippine ships carrying out supply missions to islands in the disputed sea that host Philippine garrisons.

In February, Manila accused a Chinese ship of shining a military-grade laser at a Philippine coastguard boat escorting a supply vessel to the Spratly Islands.

The Qi Jiguang, which is larger than any Philippine warship or coastguard vessel, is the first Chinese navy ship to visit the Philippines since President Ferdinand Marcos assumed office last year.

Mr. Marcos has vowed that Manila “will not lose an inch” of territory as unease grows in the region over Chinese maritime activities.

He said last week that ties between the Philippines and China were “evolving” but denied he was shifting away from Beijing.

“As to the differences between China and the Philippines, certainly they exist, but it is not something that will define our relationship,” Mr. Marcos added.

His more assertive approach contrasts with that of his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, who attempted to woo the Asian power to secure infrastructure deals and other investments.

The Duterte government welcomed several Chinese navy warships to the Philippines during his term as president from 2016 to 2022.

He personally set foot on board three Chinese vessels including a destroyer and a frigate that docked in his hometown of Davao City in 2017.

The Qi Jiguang is in Manila until Saturday and will be open to the public for two hours each day, the Chinese embassy said.

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