Duterte awaits ‘soft landing’ on first state visit to Beijing
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who arrives in Beijing on Tuesday for his first state visit to China, said he agrees with Beijing’s call for a peaceful settlement of the South China Sea issue.
Duterte, who will be in China for four days, expects a “soft landing” in the dispute.
“I’ll be there to talk about it softly,” Duterte told the China News Service in an interview released on Monday. “We take away war or violence, because that is not a good option.”
Duterte, who took office in July, has been faced with repairing chilly ties with Beijing after the cabinet of former president Benigno Aquino III unilaterally filed a case to an international tribunal on the South China Sea. China did not recognize the case and declared it invalid.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday that “the door for dialogue is always open”, adding that Beijing had noticed that Duterte repeatedly expressed his willingness to talk.
President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and top legislator Zhang Dejiang will meet individually with Duterte. Hua said the talks “may cover a wide spectrum”, and a fruitful visit is expected.
Before leaving Manila, Duterte highlighted economic and trade cooperation. He noted his country’s abundance in tourism, mineral and agricultural resources, and China’s huge, lucrative market.
Xu Liping, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted that Duterte has repeatedly demonstrated his goodwill by avoiding inflammatory comments on arbitration.
Beijing has pledged support for Manila’s priorities, including its anti-drug campaign, Xu added.
“The visits will bring tangible outcomes in two-way ties, which will benefit both countries, better stabilize the South China Sea region and improve people’s economic circumstances and trade,” Xu said.
Zhao Jianhua, Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, told Philippines media on Friday that it is hoped that after Duterte’s visit, investment from China would rise significantly in areas such as infrastructure, railways, highways, seaports and airports.
Zhao also envisioned an increase in Chinese tourists to the Philippines, which could bring as much as $1 billion annually to the country.
Ted Carpenter, a senior fellow of defense and foreign policy at the Cato Institute, said Duterte’s apparent rapprochement with China is likely to have a significant impact on the South China Sea.
“Washington was counting on its alliance with Manila for the projection of US power into the region. Now, that option is less viable.
“We must remember, though, that there are other countries with territorial claims, and they are not going away. Expect Washington to seek closer military ties with them, especially Vietnam,” Carpenter said.
Zhiqun Zhu, an associate professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University, said Duterte’s China visit will be a game-changer in the South China Sea situation.
“President Duterte has played down the international tribunal ruling and emphasized the importance of cooperation. He has also reversed the overly pro-US policy, creating a headache for the US-Philippine alliance,” Zhu said.
He said Duterte considers China a more reliable and helpful friend. “So for the time being, the South China Sea will return to normal and calm.”
We take away war or violence, because that is not a good option.” Rodrigo Duterte, Philippines president, discussing South China Sea issue on state visit to Beijing