MANILA, Philippines (AP) — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. hosted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday, the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the Philippines since taking office, though the meeting took place on a delicate moment due to the ties between Washington and Beijing. they have plummeted rapidly to their worst level in years.

There was no live broadcast of Blinken’s morning visit to the presidential palace in Manila on state television, which showed a local agricultural show and then reported on the top US diplomat’s visit in a short newscast. Only a few Manila-based journalists were allowed to participate in group coverage of the event.

The presidential office later released photos showing Marcos Jr. greeting Blinken with a handshake and the two reunited in a meeting with their officials where Marcos Jr. mentioned that he was surprised by the turn of events related to Blinken’s visit. US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan this week. .

Pelosi’s trip to the self-governing island angered China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory to be forcibly annexed if necessary. China launched military exercises off the coast of Taiwan on Thursday and on Friday severed contacts with the United States on vital issues, including military issues and crucial climate cooperation, as part of retaliatory measures against the United States for Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. despite dire warnings from China. .

“I don’t think, to be perfectly honest, I didn’t think it would increase in intensity, it just showed it, how intense that conflict has been,” Marcos Jr. said, based on a transcript released by the presidential palace.

“This just goes to show how volatile the international diplomatic scene is not just in the region,” he added.

Marcos Jr., who took office on June 30 after a landslide election victory, cited the vital relationship between Manila and Washington, which are treaty allies, and US assistance in evolving that relationship in the face of all the changes we have been watching.”

Blinken reiterated to Marcos Jr. Washington’s commitment to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the Philippines and “to work with you on shared challenges.”

“Our relationship is quite extraordinary because it is really based on friendship, it is also forged in society and it is strengthened by the fact that it is an alliance.”

Blinken arrived in Manila on Friday night after attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ministerial meetings in Cambodia, where he was joined by his Chinese and Russian counterparts. During the meeting, ASEAN foreign ministers called for “maximum restraint” as China staged war exercises around Taiwan and took retaliatory measures against the United States out of fear that the situation “could destabilize the region and could eventually lead to miscalculations, serious confrontations, open conflicts and unpredictable consequences between them”. great powers.”

After meeting briefly with Marcos Jr., Blinken was scheduled to meet via video with Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo, who recently tested positive for coronavirus. They were to hold a brief online press conference, where journalists were asked to focus their questions only on Blinken’s visit to the Philippines.

Blinken will also visit a vaccination clinic in Manila, where he will meet with groups helping fight coronavirus outbreaks, and then go to a clean energy fair and meet with US Embassy staff before flying out on Saturday. in the evening.

Shortly before Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, when speculation arose that her plane might stop briefly at the former US Clark Air Force Base north of Manila for refueling, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian voiced the Beijing’s vehement opposition to Pelosi’s unannounced plan to visit Taiwan. He expressed his hope in a TV interview that “the Philippine side will strictly abide by the one-China principle and handle all Taiwan-related issues prudently to ensure sound and steady development of China-Philippines relations.”

Huang’s comments drew a sharp rebuke from opposition senator Risa Hontiveros, who said “the ambassador should not pontificate on such policies, especially considering his country stubbornly and steadfastly refuses to recognize a decision handed down by an international arbitral tribunal and ignores and flouts international standards.” law in the Western Philippine Sea when it suits their interests.”

Hontiveros was referring to a 2016 arbitration ruling on a Philippines complaint invalidating China’s vast territorial claims in the disputed South China Sea. He used the Philippine name for the disputed waters.

China has dismissed that ruling, which was welcomed by the United States and its Western allies, as a sham and continues to challenge it.

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AP writer Andrew Harnik contributed to this report.

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