• Vice Premier Wang Yang is expected to be in Manila to answer questions on Chinese vessels in Benham Rise.

Vice Premier Wang Yang is expected to be in Manila to answer questions on Chinese vessels in Benham Rise. (Photo : Getty Images)

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang is arriving in Manila to attend the China-ASEAN Year of Tourism and China-Philippines Economic and Trade Forum. The top Chinese official will also be expected to answer questions on the presence of naval ships in the Benham Rise.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said, "At the invitation of the government of the Republic of the Philippines, Vice Premier Wang Yang of the State Council will pay an official visit to the Philippines from March 16 to 19."

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Hua added that the visit will enhance ties and promote "cooperation between the two countries in various fields and take China-Philippines relations to a new level."

The visit of Commerce Minister Zhong Shan led to the pledge of three infrastructure projects in the Philippines totaling $3.4 billion.

The Chinese government also promised and signed a purchase agreement worth $1 billion for agricultural products.

On the issue of the Benham Rise, the spokesperson said that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte already agreed to the use of Chinese vessels in the disputed area.

She said, "China welcomes and commends relevant remarks by President Duterte. As he said, China and the Philippines have already communicated and had a friendly exchange of views on the relevant issue, clarified the facts and appropriately handled the issue."

However, Philippine Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said that the presence of Chinese ships near the oil-rich area is concerning.

He said that Chinese ships were using the Benham Bank as a dock for vessels and submarines. The ships would stay in the area for months.

The Benham Rise was declared part of Philippine territory by the United Nations in 2012.

China responded to the criticism. Foreign Minister Geng Shuang said that the U.N. declaration "does not mean that the Philippines can take it as its own territory."

Geng said that the ships were just passing by and did not conduct any other activity.

The Chinese government is being slammed by academic experts in the Philippines. They assert that the presence of the Chinese government should have obtained documentation first.

A foreign policy expert from De La Salle University, Richard J. Heydarian, said that the passage of Chinese vessels "don't connote virtually parking your vessels and conducting oceanographic research in the continental shelf of another country without a prior formal agreement."