Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan's participation in a high-level regional security forum in the Philippines would boost military cooperation between China and Southeast Asian countries, Chinese experts said on Monday.
The high-level dialogue brought together Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) defense ministers to discuss regional security issues, such as terrorism, drug trafficking, and maritime conflicts in Clark, the Philippines, the Xinhua News Agency reported Monday.
Chang will attend a China-ASEAN Defense Ministers' Informal Meeting and an ASEAN Defense Ministers' Meeting-Plus that includes eight ASEAN dialogue partners - Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, Russia and the US, according to China's National Defense Ministry.
At the same time, he will be pay an official goodwill visit to the Philippines, the ministry said, in the company of Rear Admiral Dong Jun, Deputy Commander of the Southern Theater Command of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and Vice Admiral Ding Yi, Deputy Commander of the PLA Naval forces.
"Previously, China often just sent lower-ranking officers to these meetings. This time, Chang is taking part himself to signify the improvements in Sino-Philippine relations since President Rodrigo Duterte took office," Zhuang Guotu, head of Xiamen University's Southeast Asian Studies Center, told the Global Times.
China donated 5 million Philippine pesos ($97,749) to help rehabilitate the war-ravaged southern Philippine city of Marawi, Xinhua reported in September. Fighting in the city broke out on May 23, as government forces tried to retake it from Islamist extremists.
In October, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua handed over military equipment to help the Philippines fight terrorism, including rifles, ammunition and sniper scopes. In accepting the arms donation, Philippine military authorities lauded China for its contributing to peace in the Philippines.
At this defense ministers' meeting, military cooperation is also a key issue and, by providing military aid, China expects to increase military cooperation with the Philippines and other members of ASEAN in future, said Zhuang.
The US defense chief, James Mattis, will also be taking part in the meeting from Monday to Wednesday. Mattis said on Sunday, on the way to the Philippines that he would discuss regional security challenges with US Asian allies and Southeast Asian nations, Xinhua reported.
"As usual, the US is attempting to create friction in the South China Sea area and spread the China-threat rhetoric via this meeting. However, Washington will not achieve its goal because Southeast Asian countries have gradually realized the importance of economic and military cooperation with China. And the US influence on them has been declining accordingly," Zhuang said.