A shooting in the central Philippine city of Cebu has left two Chinese diplomats dead and a third injured, according to authorities in Manila.

At around 1:20 p.m. the group were enjoying a birthday lunch at the Lighthouse Restaurant when a guest opened fire. The shooter, a male Chinese citizen, left two men dead, writes Javier C. Hernandez for The New York Times.

Cebu Philippines Shooting

Two dead, one injured after restaurant shooting

The deceased were both aides to Song Ronghua, the 53-year-old Chinese consul general in Cebu. He was left injured and taken to a local hospital after the attack. His condition was reported as stable on Wednesday evening.

Police identified the victims as Shen Sun, 59, who worked as the deputy consul general, and Li Hui, finance officer at the consulate. Police arrested the assailant, Li Qinglong, and detained his wife Gou Jing as part of their investigation.

At first the police reported that the suspect was the wife of a consular official, but a review of security-camera footage revealed that Mr. Li had fired the weapon.

“The gunman just stood up and shot the two people to his right, and then he shot the person right across from him,” said police spokesman Rey Lyndon Lawas. A .45-caliber pistol was recovered from the scene.

An ongoing investigation is underway into the motive behind the shooting. Interpreters from the Chinese Embassy in Manila were expected to arrive in Cebu to facilitate communication, said Mr. Lawas.

Injured diplomat working on improving China-Philippines relations

Mr. Song is a career diplomat who only recently took up the position of consul general in Cebu. He is part of an increasingly concerted effort to improve relations between Beijing and Manila.

The Philippines has become increasingly concerned by Chinese actions in the South China Sea, a region to which both nations have territorial claims. Beijing’s land reclamation program has seen the construction of naval and air force facilities on previously uninhabited reefs.

Many commentators believe that the new facilities are being constructed in a bid to strengthen Chinese claims to the area. Others fear that they could eventually be used to restrict access to vital international shipping lanes and fertile fishing grounds.

Among others,the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan all hold competing claims to parts of the South China Sea. The U.S. has stepped in to maintain access for ships and aircraft, but ultimately China is asserting itself ever more aggressively in its own backyard.

Discussions ongoing between ASEAN and China

According to local reports, Mr. Song told a conference last month that China and the Philippines had “no excuses to quarrel” over the South China Sea. This week senior officials from China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) met in the Chinese city of Chengdu to discuss a code of conduct in the South China Sea.

The accord was signed in 2002, and requires each signatory to disclose any military movements in the disputed territories.

“At this point, I’d love to see and appreciate, that with our joint efforts among China and ASEAN members, we have been able to maintain the overall peace and stability in the South China Sea region and to safeguard free navigation in South China Sea and we enjoy the prosperity in South China Sea region,” said Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin.

Lighthouse construction ignites controversy

Fresh controversy has erupted this week after China constructed lighthouses in the disputed territories. Facilities on two reefs went operational on October 10,and China claims they are intended to improve navigational safety.

Other nations fear that the lighthouses are another attempt to bolster Chinese claims of sovereignty, and the Philippines has spoken out on the issue. China denies that the lighthouses are a problem. “There is no need for us to bolster a sovereignty claim through building lighthouses,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

The South China Sea is a contentious geopolitical issue that looks to have China on collision course with both regional neighbors and the United States. China is increasingly challenging U.S. hegemony in Asia as it looks to gain international recognition for its new status as a world power.

U.S. Navy patrols near Chinese military installations have been met with aggression from China, and it must be hoped that a diplomatic solution can be found. Long-term U.S. ally Japan is also concerned by developments, and has expressed an interest in joining naval patrols.

In order to do so, Japan would have to rewrite its pacifist constitution, a sign that Tokyo is taking the Chinese threat very seriously indeed.