MANILA, Philippines — China has raised concerns about a joint U.S.-Philippine military exercise that coincides with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the country in November, a Philippine official said Tuesday.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua raised the concern in a meeting Monday with President Rodrigo Duterte, who assured the Chinese envoy that the Philippines would not take part in the military maneuvers.
"China of course expressed concern over a naval, a military exercise that the United States will be conducting in the area at about the same time that the Chinese President will be in the Philippines," Roque told a televised news conference.
The Philippine military said Friday its joint defense and security activities with U.S. forces, including annual combat exercises, will increase next year in a show of the treaty allies' continuing robust relations.
Roque did not elaborate on what particular drill China was concerned about. Philippine military officials said they’re unaware of any U.S. military exercise with Filipino forces next month.
The Philippine government will ensure that nothing will mar Xi's first visit to the country, which both sides agree will "further cement" their already-strong relations, Roque said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila “will do all that it can to make sure that President Xi’s visit will be fruitful and as productive as we would want it to be,” he said.
A Philippine navy frigate has run aground on a shoal in the disputed South China Sea and efforts are underway to retrieve it and its crew who were unhurt.
After taking office in 2016, Duterte worked to repair relations with China which had been damaged by the two countries' territorial disputes in the South China Sea. He announced early in his presidency that he would end annual combat drills with the U.S. military in an effort not to offend China, but the drills have continued.
China has opposed American-led military exercises, especially in the disputed waters, accusing Washington of intervening in a purely Asian dispute. The U.S. has pressed on with the exercises and military patrols to promote freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea.