Hopes rise as visit by Duterte set

Philip­pines pres­i­dent’s trip to China next week hailed as mile­stone in bi­lat­eral ties


Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte will make a four-day state visit to China next week, bring­ing along a 250-mem­ber busi­ness del­e­ga­tion, and a num­ber of deals are ex­pected to be signed.

The visit, which will be Duterte’s first out­side South­east Asia since he be­came pres­i­dent in June, was an­nounced by China’s For­eign Min­istry on Wed­nes­day. It will also be the first state visit by a top Philip­pine leader in the past five years, dur­ing which time mar­itime dis­putes soured bi­lat­eral ties un­der Duterte’s pre­de­ces­sor.

Philip­pine Trade Un­der­sec­re­tary Nora Ter­rado, who told Reuters that ini­tially only about two dozen Philip­pine en­trepreneurs were to ac­com­pany Duterte to China, said the num­ber had bal­looned to about 250.

Ex­perts said the visit, sched­uled for Oct 18 to 21, will be a mile­stone that might open a new chap­ter in Beijing-Manila re­la­tions as well as the South China Sea is­sue if Manila main­tains its sin­cer­ity.

Ties be­tween Beijing and Manila had been chilly over the past few years un­der for­mer pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino III, who played up the mar­itime dis­pute on the in­ter­na­tional stage and re­fused to hold di­rect talks with China.

Duterte, un­like his pre­de­ces­sor, has said he wants stronger ties with China to gain fund­ing for devel­op­ment projects and has kept a cool head on the South China Sea dis­pute, said Wu Shi­cun, a South China Sea ex­pert.

For­eign Min­istry spokes-

man Geng Shuang con­firmed that Duterte will talk with Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping as well as meet with Premier Li Ke­qiang and China’s top leg­is­la­tor, Zhang De­jiang.

Al­though nei­ther side re­leased de­tails of the visit or pos­si­ble out­comes, Geng said the two sides “are main­tain­ing close con­tacts about de­tailed ar­range­ments for the visit and the out­come doc­u­ments”.

It is hoped that the visit will put the bi­lat­eral ties “back on the track of be­ing healthy and sta­ble”, Geng said, adding that the Philip­pine­sis a“tra­di­tion­ally ami ca­ble neigh­bor of China ”.

Zhou Fangyin, a pro­fes­sor of Chi­nese for­eign pol­icy at the Guang­dong In­sti­tute for In­ter­na­tional Strate­gies, said the prepa­ra­tions for Duterte’s visit mir­ror great sin­cer­ity — par­tic­u­larly from the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion — for thaw­ing ties and for Beij in g’ s vi­sion for long-term in­vest­ment in bi­lat­eral ties.

As to deals that might be signed dur­ing the visit, Zhou said po­ten­tial high­lights might be in­creased trade of agri­cul­tural pro­duce with China as well as in­fra­struc­ture con­struc­tion, which the Philip­pines needs.

The visit will be an im­por­tant op­por­tu­nity that “both sides should grasp”, and “Duterte pos­si­bly has his eyes on co­op­er­a­tion with China in the long run” in ad­di­tion to this visit, Zhou said.

The South China Sea is­sue is un­likely to be re­solved overnight, and nei­ther coun­try should give up work­ing on the frag­ile ties, Zhou added.

Wu Shi­cun said “the times have changed” for China-Philip­pine ties, and he be­lieves “the visit will nav­i­gate the re­la­tion­ship out of the record low and move on stead­fastly”.

Ro­drigo Duterte, Philip­pines pres­i­dent

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