MANILA, Philippines (Net) — A Chinese navy training ship with hundreds of cadets made a port call in the Philippines on Wednesday, its final stop on a goodwill tour of four countries as Beijing looks to mend fences in the region.
Cadets in dress whites stood at attention on deck of the Qi Jiguang as they were welcomed at the port in Manila by Philippine military officials on shore, while artists in dragon costumes performed a traditional dance and onlookers waved Chinese and Philippine flags.
China’s ambassador to the Philippines was on hand for the ceremony but neither he nor any of the Phil-ippine officials made any comment to the media.
It was a rare visit for a Chinese naval ship to the Philippines, whose new government under Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been strengthening ties with the United States, including more joint military exercises and in February granting the American military greater access to the country’s military facilities.
China, meantime, has become increasingly assertive in pressing its broad claims to the strategic South China Sea, which has put it at odds with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.
In February, a Chinese coast guard ship aimed a military-grade laser at a Philippine patrol vessel off a disputed reef, temporarily blinding some crew members and prompting the Philippines to intensify its patrols in the South China Sea.
The ship’s visit comes a week after joint U.S., Japanese and Philippine coast guard law enforcement drills in the area.
President Joe Biden’s administration has been broadly working to reinforce alliances in the Indo-Pacific to push back against China’s sweeping maritime claims, including threats against the self-governing is-land of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.
The largest naval training ship of China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, the Qi Jiguang was to be in port for three days. It was the end of a nearly 40-day voyage for 476 naval cadets and sailors from Chi-na’s well-known Dalian Naval Academy.
When it set off in mid-May, there was no mention of the various territorial disputes China is embroiled in, with official media reporting it as an opportunity for the cadets to visit foreign military vessels, acad-emies and training facilities, and help “deepen the friendship with local people.”
Only members of the Chinese-Filipino community were allowed to board the Qi Jiguang on Wednesday, but the ship was to be opened to the broader public on Thursday and Friday.
Yong Ning Cai, a Chinese-Chinese businessman who was on the pier to watch the Qi Jiguang’s arrival, was one of those allowed to board the ship and said he was impressed by its “advanced and high-end” equipment.
“This is a ship of our motherland and it is built very well, better than those in other countries,” he said. “This visit is very successful and will definitely promote the friendship between China and the Philip-pines.”