MALACAÑANG on Thursday said President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s bilateral talks this month with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing may include the continued presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

Mr. Duterte is scheduled to attend the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on April 26 to 27. Last month, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said the President would also raise the Philippines’ concerns on the reported harassment of Filipino fishermen.

At a news conference at the Palace on Thursday, April 11, Mr. Panelo said this time: “I do not know if he will raise that [issue regarding the Chinese vessels]. My educated guess is since we have already raised that, they may respond to that during the bilateral talk.”

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has filed a “salvo of protests” against China over the issue.

“We have to wait for their response,” he added.

The last time that Mssrs. Xi and Duterte discussed the West Philippine Sea issue was during the state visit of the Chinese leader to the Philippines in November last year.

Sought for comment, University of Santo Tomas political science professor Marlon M. Villarin said via phone message: “I believe this is the best time for President Duterte and President Xi to have the issue discussed. Considering that, politically, the focus on the West Philippine Sea issue nowadays has the vantage points both from local and international politics. But I think this will only result in easing the presence of the [Chinese maritime] militia in the West Philippine Sea.”

He added: “Diplomatically, it can address issues concerning the increasing number of Chinese civilian militia vessels within the West Philippine Sea, especially those vessels [near the] Pag-asa Island. The presence of those Chinese…vessels is a clear indicator that China has a serious intention to grab the island.”