TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang (秦剛) and Filipino President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. met in Manila on Saturday (April 22), just one week after China’s ambassador accused the Philippines of “stoking the fire” around the Taiwan issue.
During the meeting, the Foreign Secretary of the Philippines, Enrique Manalo, expressed concern over escalating tensions in the Taiwan Strait. However, he reaffirmed the Philippines' adherence to the one China policy, per Reuters.
The meeting comes at a crucial time as the largest-ever Philippine-U.S. joint military exercise is taking place, between April 11-28. The exercises include live-fire drills and more than 17,600 American and Filipino soldiers.
Earlier in April, the Philippines also granted the U.S. access to four new military bases, which may prove crucial in the defense of Taiwan. The bases allow U.S. forces to establish military staging grounds and surveillance outposts which will be “a major boost to the U.S. presence in the region, as part of efforts to neutralize China’s influence” per the Hill.
The agreement between Manila and Washington angered Beijing. China’s ambassador to the Philippines said, “The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose 'Taiwan independence' rather than stoking the fire by offering the U.S. access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait.”
However, Manalo said the Philippines will not allow U.S. soldiers to stockpile weapons for use in any military contingency plans related to Taiwan, according to the Philippine Star. Manalo said, "Our view is that EDCA is not aimed at any third country” and that the Southeast Asian nation would be guided by its “own national interest."
President Marcos told reporters that the decision to expand U.S. military access in the Philippines was delayed by opposition from local government officials, wary of being caught in the middle of any U.S.-China conflict.
Manalo said the Philippines is taking an independent approach, neither siding with the U.S. nor China in terms of foreign relations. The Philippines, like other nations, must balance its economic ties to Beijing with its security ties to Washington, he said.
Regarding any potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait, the Philippines has indicated that the country's main concern is the safety of over 158,000 overseas Filipino workers (OFW) in Taiwan.
During Saturday’s meeting, the leaders also discussed the South China Sea territorial dispute. Manalo said, "Our leaders have agreed that our differences in the West Philippine Sea are not the sum total of our relations.”
Marcos’ meeting with China comes a little over one week before he is expected to meet U.S. President Joe Biden on May 1 in Washington.