Over half a year since the coronavirus pandemic halted in-person diplomatic gatherings, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr made his first physical visit to China over the weekend to meet with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Locsin, who met with Wang in Tengchong City, Yunnan, undertook an official visit to China from October 9 to 11, upon Wang’s invitation.
The visit is Locsin’s first official trip overseas since February 2020, when the pandemic prompted countries to implement lockdowns and travel restrictions in a bid to curb COVID-19.
The first country visited by foreign secretaries, either at the start of their terms or during key milestones, is often an indicator of the other country’s significance in foreign policy.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the two diplomats’ meeting was held on Saturday, October 10, “to take stock of priority political and economic bilateral cooperation initiatives.”
During the meeting, both Locsin and Wang were reported to have engaged in a “candid and in-depth exchange” on security concerns in the region, relations between the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and China, as well as “broader multilateral fora.”
The two diplomats also reaffirmed the “continuing vitality” of relations between Manila and Beijing despite limitations brought about by the pandemic.
The meeting between Locsin and Wang takes place after months of heightened tension in the region and over two weeks since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte invoked the 2016 Hague ruling before world leaders at the 75th United Nations General Assembly.
Duterte’s move was a milestone considering that, since the start of Duterte's term in 2016, critics have blasted his defeatist stance on the West Philippine Sea. Since assuming the presidency, Duterte had downplayed the maritime and territorial dispute with China in exchange for economic benefits – a move long welcomed by Beijing.
The physicality of the meeting highlighted the importance both sides took to demonstrate strong ties as tensions in the region continues to linger and the pandemic continues to drag on.
The meeting saw the two countries likewise commit to economic and infrastructure cooperation.
According to Chinese state media Xinhua, Locsin thanked China for providing assistance during the pandemic and “looked forward to vaccine cooperation.”
Locsin and Wang also confirmed the prospective establishment of a “Fast Lane for Urgently Needed Personnel Exchanges” between the Philippines and China that would facilitate the safe movement of personnel in industries such as business and trade, infrastructure, logistics, production, and technical services. – Rappler.com