China has launched an urgent intervention against the Philippines’ growing military alliance with the US as Asian nations get dragged into the geopolitical rivalry between Beijing and Washington.

On his first visit to Manila, Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang on Saturday urged the Philippines to “continue our traditional friendship . . . keep our promises to each other . . . and inject greater positive energy for the peace and stability of this region and even the whole world.”

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who took office last year, has tried to balance the two superpowers but infuriated Beijing with a recent decision to let the US use four military bases close to Taiwan.

Qin’s trip comes amid the largest US-Philippine military exercises in more than 30 years and just a week after China’s ambassador to the Philippines accused Manila of “stoking the fire” of tension over Taiwan.

“Amid the fluid and turbulent international and regional situation, a healthy development of Chinese-Philippines relations is not only meeting the aspiration of our two peoples but also in line with the common aspiration of regional countries,” Qin told Philippine foreign secretary Enrique Manalo.

Beijing’s efforts to sway Manila were part of a broader pressure campaign, with Qin blasting the “absurd rhetoric” of countries that criticise China for challenging the status quo in the Taiwan Strait — an apparent reaction to comments by South Korea’s president.

The Philippines is the oldest US ally in Asia, but like several other countries in the region it tries to balance that security relationship with economic ties to China.

Marcos Jr chose Beijing for his first state visit outside south-east Asia, but out of concern over Chinese aggression in the disputed South China Sea and fear that a conflict over Taiwan could spill over into the Philippines, he has made deepening the US alliance a priority.

In early April, he designated four additional Philippine military bases sites where the US military can stock defence equipment and rotate forces. Three of the new sites are in northern Luzon, an area Philippine military officials call “key terrain”, which both sides would try to control if China attacked Taiwan and the US intervened in Taipei’s support.

Beijing reacted with fury. “Obviously, the US intends to take advantage of the new . . . sites to interfere in the situation across the Taiwan Strait to serve its geopolitical goals,” said Huang Xilian, the Chinese ambassador, at a conference in Manila last week.

“The Philippines is advised to unequivocally oppose ‘Taiwan independence’ rather than stoking the fire by offering the US access to the military bases near the Taiwan Strait if you care genuinely about the 150,000 [Philippine overseas workers in Taiwan],” he added.

The reference to the overseas workers, whose security in case of war is Manila’s greatest concern, set off fierce domestic debate in the Philippines and triggered a sharp rebuke from the Philippine defence ministry.

Some of the new sites are already in use by US forces during the current bilateral exercises. On Naval Base Camilo Osias in Santa Ana, a remote farming and fishing town on the north-eastern tip of Luzon, US Marines were exercising at dawn on Saturday, just hours before Qin met Manalo.

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