Philippine military chief, Chinese envoy meet amid South China Sea tiff

Jojo Riñoza and Jeoffrey Maitem
Manila and Davao, Philippines
Philippine military chief, Chinese envoy meet amid South China Sea tiff Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian (left) inspects an honor guard as he is welcomed by Philippine armed forces chief Gen. Andres Centino at the military’s headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Manila, Feb. 15, 2023.
Courtesy Chinese Embassy in the Philippines

The Philippine military chief met with Beijing's envoy to Manila amid tensions over the recent Chinese harassment of the Filipino coast guard in the South China Sea, although both sides on Thursday downplayed the meeting.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom and Canada on Thursday backed Manila over an incident this week in which coast guard members were temporarily blinded by a military-grade laser from a Chinese Coast Guard ship.

Armed forces chief Gen. Andres Centino and Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian met behind closed doors at the military’s headquarters Camp Aguinaldo in Manila on Wednesday.

“The discussion focused on military-to-military exchange and cooperation that will promote peace and stability in the region,” military spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar said in a statement.

Aguilar described the 45-minute meeting as “cordial and constructive,” and sought to downplay it as a potential offshoot of the recent incident involving a laser.

Huang used similar language about their discussions.

“We discussed matters pertaining to military- to-military exchange and cooperation as well as sustaining peace and stability in the region,” he said on Facebook.

The meeting came a day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. summoned Huang to express his “serious concern” over the harassment of the Philippine Coast Guard ship.

Beijing rejected the accusation, saying the Philippine ship “intruded into the waters” off the Spratly islands “without Chinese permission” and the Chinese Coast Guard “acted in a professional and restrained way.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that Huang “has clarified the facts with Philippine leaders.

“We need to highlight the fact that the China Coast Guard ship did not direct lasers at the Philippine crew, and the hand-held equipment does not inflict damage on anything or anyone on the vessel. The Philippine side’s allegation does not reflect the truth,” he said.

China claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, including in waters that practically reach the shores of its Southeast Asian neighbors. In 2016, an international arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines and invalidated China’s vast claims in the region.

International support

The U.K. and Canada statements of support follow similar announcements by Japan and the United States

“The U.K. supports and joins the Philippines in expressing our serious concern regarding the intimidatory actions towards lawfully operating Philippines vessels in the South China Sea. These dangerous acts are in violation of international law,” the British Embassy in Manila said.

“The U.K. is unwavering in our position on UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea), and that the 2016 arbitral decision is final and legally binding,” it said.

David Hartman, Canada’s ambassador to Manila, challenged China’s actions.

“Recent actions that disrupted the lawful operations of Philippine vessels off the coast of the Philippines are in violation of international law and contrary to the maintenance of regional peace and stability, and the rules-based international order,” Hartman said.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.