MANILA: 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 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, without offering details.
Commissioned in 2017, the ship “conveys the concept of mutual trust concerning China’s peaceful development,” read a leaflet distributed by its crew to visitors.
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, Manila says.
In February, Manila accused a Chinese ship of shining a military-grade laser at a Philippine coast guard boat escorting a supply vessel to the Spratly Islands.
The Qi Jiguang, which is larger than any Philippine warship or coast guard vessel, is the first Chinese navy ship to visit the Philippines since Ferdinand Marcos Jr. won the presidency last year.
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,” 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.
In 2019 three more Chinese navy vessels, including two missile frigates, were welcomed to Manila by the Philippines’ then defense secretary.
The Qi Jiguang is in Manila until Saturday and will be open to the public for two hours each day, the Chinese embassy said.