Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi met with President Benigno Aquino III and his Philippine counterpart Tuesday ahead of Pacific Rim leaders’ summit next week.
It was the first visit to Manila by a top Chinese official in recent years amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Wang met for about an hour with foreign secretary Albert del Rosario.
He waved but ignored questions shouted at him by journalists as he stepped out of the department of foreign affairs. Del Rosario said the meeting was “good” but hurried to the presidential palace, where Wang met Aquino.
Before their meeting, the two ministers posed for pictures and Wang signed a guest book. Del Rosario also hosted a lunch for Wang after the meeting with Aquino.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Monday that the two sides will prepare for President Xi Jingping’s visit during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ summit and discuss how to improve bilateral ties.
Aquino said he welcomed Xi’s decision to join the APEC summit and promised “the warmth of Filipino hospitality,” according to presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma.
The two foreign ministers last met in Beijing in 2013 on the sidelines of Southeast Asian foreign ministers’ meeting with their Chinese counterpart, but it is Wang’s first visit to Philippine capital as a foreign minister.
“The bilateral relationship is beset by difficulties due to reasons known to all,” Hong said, adding that China “attaches importance to its relationship with the Philippines and stays committed to properly resolving relevant issues through consultations and negotiations.”
On Saturday in Singapore, Xi promised to safeguard freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where tensions have flared over overlapping claims and the US Navy’s moves to challenge Beijing’s island-building.
China criticized last week’s patrol of the USS Lassen, a guided-missile destroyer, within the 12-nautical-mile (22-kilometer) territorial limit of Subi Reef, one of the South China Sea features that have been claimed, expanded and reinforced by China over objections of other claimants, particularly the Philippines.
The US navy said it wanted to demonstrate the principle of freedom of navigation.
Last month, over Chinese objections, an international tribunal ruled it had jurisdiction in a case brought by the Philippines on maritime claims.
China, the Philippines and four other governments have overlapping claims across the vast South China Sea, with Beijing claiming it has sovereignty over virtually all of the waters.
Some of the disputed areas are believed to sit atop vast undersea deposits of oil and gas and straddle some of the world’s busiest sea lanes.