Updated Mar 14, 2019, 6:32:21 PM
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 14) — Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin Jr. is visiting China next week, his first official trip to the East Asian giant as the country's top diplomat.
The visit is set for March 18 to 21 upon the invitation of Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said in a statement Thursday.
"Secretary Locsin and his Chinese counterpart will hold a bilateral meeting to discuss the strengthening of the friendly relations between the Philippines and China in the spirit of mutual respect and through enhanced functional cooperation," the DFA said.
It added that the ministers will also "discuss ways to advance the larger goal of bringing about peace and prosperity to the region."
The Philippines and China have overlapping claims in the South China Sea. Beijing rejects the 2016 arbitration ruling that invalidated China's sweeping claims to almost the entire sea and largely favored Manila in the long-standing maritime row. Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan and Brunei are the other claimants to the disputed area.
President Rodrigo Duterte has been criticized for pursuing warm ties with China despite Beijing's alleged militarization and supposed harassment of Filipino fishermen in contested areas.
Locsin's trip is an official visit, which means China as the host country will shoulder the official delegation's expenses. Wang has said he wants a "close personal friendship" with Locsin, whom he congratulated in October 2018 for being appointed DFA chief. Wang also visited the country that month, where he said Duterte is an important ally of China and its President, Xi Jinping.
Locsin's upcoming visit to Beijing comes amid continued concerns that the Philippines could fall into a debt trap due to billions of pesos in grants and investment pledges from China. Manila and Beijing officials have assured this would not happen.