Chinese Naval Vessel Begins ‘Goodwill’ Visit to Philippines

Recent Features

ASEAN Beat | Diplomacy | Southeast Asia

Chinese Naval Vessel Begins ‘Goodwill’ Visit to Philippines

The three-day visit, the first by the Chinese navy since 2019, comes at a difficult time in relations between Beijing and Manila.

Chinese Naval Vessel Begins ‘Goodwill’ Visit to Philippines

Members of the Philippine Coast Guard wave flags as they welcome the arrival of Chinese naval training ship, Qi Jiguang, for a goodwill visit at Manila’s port, Philippines Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

Credit: AP Photo/Basilio Sepe

A Chinese navy training ship yesterday made a port call in the Philippines, part of a three-day “goodwill visit” that comes in the midst of an unsettled time for relations between the two nations.

The Qi Jiguang, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN)’s main training vessel, dropped anchor in Manila, its final stop on a tour of four countries, which also included stops in Vietnam, Thailand, and Brunei.

As The Associated Press reported, “Cadets in dress whites stood at attention on the deck of the Qi Jiguang as they were welcomed at the port in Manila by Philippine military officials on shore, while artists in dragon costumes performed a traditional dance and onlookers waved Chinese and Philippine flags.”

In a statement, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said that Chinese naval officers and cadets would conduct a number of professional exchanges, including visiting a Philippine Navy vessel to conduct a joint passing exercise, The Inquirer reported. Both sides will then conduct a friendship sports match.

“A steady step in CN-PH defense cooperation, the visit is following the tradition of exchanges between the two militaries in addition to implementing the important consensus between the heads-of-state of China and the Philippines,” the embassy stated.

Its statement added that the Qi Jiguang, which is named after an officer of the large armada built in the early years of the Ming Dynasty, is the “largest and most advanced naval training vessel designed and built by China herself.”

Its arrival in Manila was the first port call by a PLAN vessel since 2019, when three ships of the PLAN’s Escort Task Group 539 paid a five-day goodwill visit to the country.

But this week’s visit comes at a more troubled time in China-Philippines relations. Since taking office a year ago, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has repaired and strengthened the security alliance with the United States, which frayed under his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte. This has included among other things an expansion of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which allows the U.S. to rotate forces through and pre-position materiel in select Philippine military facilities.

The two nations have also reinvigorated joint military exercises, including the largest iteration of the Balikatan military drills to date. The visit of the Qi Jiguan came just a week after the Philippines hosted the first ever trilateral exercise with the U.S. and Japanese coast guards from June 1 to 7.

All of this has been prompted to a great extent by China’s continuing assertiveness in the South China Sea, where Beijing’s maximalist “nine-dash line” claim intersects with a large part of the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. Under Marcos, China has ramped up its in patrols, sorties, and overflights of disputed areas in a bid to protect the nation’s maritime territory.

In February, the Philippine Coast Guard claimed that a Chinese coast guard ship aimed a military-grade laser at a Philippine patrol vessel close to Second Thomas Shoal, a submerged reef inside the Philippines’ EEZ. The laser temporarily blinded some of the crew aboard the vessel, and prevented it from approaching the shoal to resupply the contingent of marines stationed there. The came after Manila filed nearly 200 diplomatic protests against China’s actions in the disputed waters in 2022 alone.

While Marcos and his Chinese counterparts have both emphasized the importance of their nations’ relationship, including during the Philippine president’s state visit to China in January, there is as yet no sign that Beijing is set to reduce the pressure in the South China Sea. As such, this week’s naval “goodwill visit,” while a step in the right direction, will unlikely alter the overall trajectory of China-Philippines relations.