National Security Adviser Dr. Clarita Carlos visited Palawan and the Kalayaan Group of Islands near the West Philippine Sea (WPS) on Wednesday, the Armed Forces Western Command (Wescom) said yesterday.
This happened as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. welcomed Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian in Malacañang also on Wednesday, the Palace revealed Thursday.
Carlos’ visit to Pag-Asa Island (Thitu), which China continues to claim as its own, “bespeaks of our common aspiration, strong stand, and unwavering dedication to protecting the people and the state under our responsibility,” said Wescom chief Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos (no relation to the adviser).
As the NSA, Dr. Carlos concurrently chairs the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea.
Meanwhile, photos shared by Mr. Marcos and Huang on their respective social media accounts indicated the latter’s courtesy call on the Philippine leader happened on Aug. 17.
“We are very grateful for the visit, and we look forward to further strengthening the relationship between China and the Philippines for the benefit of both our peoples,” said the President.
In his Facebook post, Huang said he “exchanged views” with Mr. Marcos on boosting their countries’ ties.
“I’m fully confident that under the strategic guidance of President Xi Jinping and President Marcos, the China-Philippines relationship will further grow and achieve more benefits in the years to come,” the envoy said.
Malacañang has yet to provide more details about the meeting.
Carlos’ 5-hour visit to Pag-asa Island, and participation in the aerial patrol over those waters before and after that visit on Wednesday “is very important that she will see for herself (the situation there) as the NSA,” said Maj. Cherryl Tindog, Wescom spokesperson.
Dr. Carlos thanked the troops “for their efforts in protecting what is ours there”, Tindog told reporters.
Weeks after winning the May 9 elections, Marcos said he will assertthe Philippines’ claim in the West Philippine Sea while continuing to pursue bilateral contact with China.
“We have the arbitral ruling, so we have a very important ruling in our favor. We will use it. It’s not a claim, it’s already a right,” the President added.
Pag-asa Island is part of the disputed Spratlys in the South China Sea and which Beijing calls Zhongye Dao.
Known internationally as Thitu Island, Pag-asa is located some 285 miles west of mainland Palawan and is the seat of government of Kalayaan, a Palawan municipality created in 1978.
The maritime disputes in the South China Sea have been feared to be a dangerous flashpoint not only among China and other claimants, including the Philippines but also among other members of the international community that have a stake in the international waterway and in the region.
China has been the most aggressive among the claimants, reclaiming features in the area and fortifying them with military installations, driving away fishermen and troops of other nations, and protesting visits of ranking Philippine officials in Manila-occupied features.
It continues to disregard a landmark ruling in 2016 by an arbitration court, invalidating the historical basis of its claims over almost the entire South China Sea.
While the Philippines commits to maintaining good relations with the rest of the world, Mr. Marcos said during his first State of the Nation Address last month that “he will not preside over any process that will abandon even a square inch of the territory of the Republic of the Philippines to any foreign power.”
Last month, Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles said Marcos accepted China’s invitation to visit Beijing but did not say when this would be possible.
This was after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s official visit to the country in July, during which Mr. Marcos stressed the need to “find ways to work to resolve the conflicts that we have” with the Asian power.