Chinese defense chief to visit PH, meet Lorenzana
MANILA, Philippines—Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fenghe will visit the Philippines as part of his tour of selected countries in Southeast Asia, where hostility toward China’s aggression in the South China Sea is growing.
Three security officials, who were not authorized to speak to the media, confirmed to Inquirer.net that Wei will meet his Philippine counterpart, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, on Friday (Sept. 11) at Camp Aguinaldo, the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
Details of Wei’s Manila visit were unclear and Lorenzana has not responded to queries as of late Thursday.
South China Morning Post reported that Wei would visit Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei before he flies to the Philippines.
Wei’s visit comes amid China’s continued aggression in the West Philippine Sea and renewed security worries in the Philippines over Chinese investments.
Just last month, the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest against China after the Chinese Coast Guard seized fishing devices of Filipino fishermen in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The Philippines also protested China’s “continuing illicit issuances of radio challenges against Philippine aircraft conducting legitimate regular maritime patrols in the West Philippine Sea.”
Beijing continued to assert its expansive claims in the South China Sea in the middle of global anxiety over the COVID-19 pandemic, which started in China.
Chinese investments in the Philippines have also seen renewed scrutiny recently after the US imposed sanctions on Chinese companies involved in South China Sea construction of artificial islands, which had been turned into Chinese military installations.
President Rodrigo Duterte last week gave the go signal for the US-blacklisted Chinese firms to participate in the country’s infrastructure programs.
This resulted in fresh security concerns, however, in projects like the China-backed Sangley Point International Airport (SPIA), which will displace the Philippine Navy and could make Manila vulnerable.
Early this week, Lorenzana announced that he signed the deal with Chinese-linked Dito Telecommunity, which would allow the telco to put up cell site towers in military camps, lighting up concerns on national security.
Wei’s visit also comes amid the annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit, which is held online due to the pandemic. The online meeting of Southeast Asia’s top diplomats started Wednesday (Sept. 9) and will run until Saturday (Sept. 12).
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, will take part in the summit, their first since the US announced sanctions on Chinese companies involved in China’s construction frenzy in the South China Sea.
Rising tensions in the South China Sea and escalating rivalry between the US and China were expected to top the agenda of the Asean summit. COVID-19, which has devastated the region’s economy, was also expected to be part of the summit agenda.
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