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The Philippines

Philippines bridges troubled South China Sea waters by sending first ship to join PLA Navy fleet review

  • Philippine defence secretary says Manila will join Beijing’s ‘confidence building’
  • Analyst says move calms choppy waters of South China Sea dispute
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2019, 6:03am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 January, 2019, 7:27am

The Philippine Navy said it would, for the first time, send a vessel to a fleet review hosted by the PLA Navy as tensions between rival claimants to territory in the South China Sea eased.

Philippine Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad was quoted by the news portal the Inquirer as saying that plans to send a ship to China for an event that marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of Chinese navy were in hand.

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The Philippines – which successfully challenged Beijing’s territorial assertiveness in the South China Sea in a landmark arbitration ruling in 2016 – would be responsible for a first if it joined the fleet review which is scheduled for the coastal city of Qingdao, eastern Shandong province, on April 23.

“It was most educational,” Delfin Lorenzana, Philippine National Defence Secretary, said on a Sunday tour of the guided-missile frigate Wuhu, one of three Chinese warships on a five-day visit to the Philippines.

“They came in friendship, and the least we can do is offer them our vaunted hospitality. We, too, shall be sending some of our ships to visit China within the year.”

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Sending ships would be part of the “confidence-building activities” for both countries, Lorenzana told local media.

The Chinese vessels concluded their visit and left Manila on Monday morning.

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The flotilla, which comprised the frigates Wuhu and Handan and supply ship Dongpinghu, arrived in Manila on Thursday after completing counter-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Horn of Africa.

A Chinese military analyst said a Philippine naval emissary at Qingdao could improve relations as China seeks to establish a code of conduct for the South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway now has become a major flashpoint after the United States and its allies including Britain, France and Australia sent in warships as part of freedom of navigation operations, triggering opposition from Beijing.

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“Cordial relations with China have played a big role in Philippine’s anti-terrorism and anti-drugs campaign as well as in its economic development,” Song Zhongping, a military commentator in Hong Kong, said. “From a practical perspective, it would also be beneficial to stability in the South China Sea.

“Normal military relations between China and the Philippines would also be positive for future negotiations of the code of conduct, and this is also what China would like to see,” Song said.

Despite some antagonisms, Beijing has courted the Philippines over the past year, with Chinese President Xi Jinping visiting Manila in November to pledge billions in trade and investment deals that critics said could shift Manila’s position on territories in the South China Sea.