Duterte awaits ‘soft land­ing’ on first state visit to Bei­jing

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHANG YUNBI in Bei­jing and CHEN WEI­HUA in Wash­ing­ton

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

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