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President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is expected to discuss maritime and regional issues with Vietnam during his state visit there next week, a Department of Foreign Affairs official said Friday.

This developed as some 50 Chinese vessels were spotted near Ayungin Shoal ahead of the rotation and resupply mission of the Armed Forces of the Philippines to BRP Sierra Madre, an American security analyst said.

In a Palace briefing, DFA Assistant Secretary Aileen Mendiola-Rau said the President would start a discussion on various regional and international issues with Vietnamese leaders during his state visit
from Jan. 29 to 30

“If it’s on the MOU (memorandum of understanding) between the (Philippine and Vietnamese) Coast Guard, it’s a simple agreement on how both coast guards will cooperate with each other,” Rau said.

“Now, on maritime issues, there’s a general topic on maritime discussion under… when the President meets with the three Vietnamese leaders. But we don’t wish to preempt the discussions at this point,”
she added.

Rau added the President would share views and perspectives on matters involving the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region.

“We consider that this visit of the President would be significant in our ever-evolving relations with Vietnam,” she further noted.

In a post on X on Thursday, Ray Powell, the former US Air Force Colonel and Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation Sealight Director said the number of Chinese vessels in Panganiban
Reef has increased from last week.

“Most of China’s maritime militia rotation deployed to Mischief Reef, where the Qiong Sansha Yu fleet is up from 14 last week to 35 now (+15 smaller ships),” Powell said on his social media page.

China is possibly maintaining its presence there until the Philippines’ next resupply mission in Ayungin Shoal, also known as Second Thomas Shoal, according to Powell.

“China may be keeping force levels high there until after the Philippines’ next resupply of nearby 2nd Thomas Shoal,” the security analyst said.

President Marcos and First Lady Lousie Araneta-Marcos are flying to the Southeast Asian neighbor upon the invitation of Vietnamese President Vo Van Thuong.

This is the President’s first official outbound state visit for the year, excluding his attendance at the wedding of the Prince of Brunei earlier this month.

DFA spokesperson Ma. Teresita Daza said President Marcos would also tackle issues regarding food security, agricultural cooperation and trade collaboration with Vietnam.

“During the visit, the President will meet with leaders of Vietnam, namely President Thuong, His Excellency Pham Minh Chinh, Prime Minister of Vietnam, and his Excellency Vuong Dinh Hue, Chairman of the National Assembly of Vietnam, where discussion on the multifaceted relationship and ways of exploring deepening cooperation across different fronts will be expected,” Daza said.

“The President is also expected to meet with business sectors to promote trade and investment relations between the Philippines and Vietnam,” she added.

Mr. Marcos will also meet with the Filipino community to highlight the Philippines’ friendly relations with Vietnam and the community’s contribution to promoting a positive image of the Philippines in the country.

Approximately 7,000 Filipinos are working and residing in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Powell said last week that 27 Qiong Sansha Yu-class ships were deployed south of Spratly Islands and east to Scarborough Shoal.

Last December, Powell reported that the Chinese vessels near Ayungin Shoal were in “invasion” mode—information which the AFP denied.

BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded at the Ayungin Shoal since 1999. It is manned by more than a dozen Marines and sailors and has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory.

Resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre, however, have become increasingly difficult as Chinese vessels have been disrupting the passage of Philippine vessels to the area.

Ayungin Shoal is part of the Kalayaan Island Group as well as the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf, over which the country has sovereignty, sovereign rights, and jurisdiction.

Tensions between China and the Philippines have heightened in recent months as both sides trade accusations over a series of incidents in the South China Sea.

The Philippines includes areas of the South China Sea that fall within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf as part of the West Philippine Sea (WPS).