President Rodrigo Duterte appears to believe China is a more valuable ally than the US. Source: Wikimedia
The Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has welcomed the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte on a “milestone” visit to Beijing.
The Philippine president’s four-day trip is due to boost trade and bilateral ties as Duterte engages China as he moves away from the US, pointedly referring to the colonial past.
“The two sides briefly mentioned the South China Sea. Both sides agreed that this issue is not the sum total of bilateral relations,” China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told the media after the meeting.
Duterte said July 12’s South China Sea international arbitration ruling in The Hague would “take the back seat” during talks, and that he would wait for the Chinese to bring up the dispute. “It is not the time to go to war,” Duterte said, referring to the South China Sea.
“The only hope of the Philippines economically, I’ll be frank with you, is China,” he said. “This [Chinese] visit is the defining moment of my presidency. I would say that China deserves the kind of respect that China now enjoys.”
Duterte had agreed to seek “settlement through bilateral dialogue”, he said, which is what Beijing has always called for.
He also attended a welcoming ceremony at Great Hall of the People in the capital.
The combative president has said that a close economic partnership with China was the Philippines’ “only hope” following the cooling of relations with the US.
“Maybe because I am Chinese, I believe in sincerity,” he told Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, when asked why the Philippines had changed its policy towards China.
Xi and Duterte signed 13 deals covering trade as well as co-operation in cultural, tourism, anti-narcotics and maritime affairs.
The Philippine Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez earlier said the deals would be worth US$13.5 billion. Duterte said he would end joint military exercises with the US.
China is the Philippines’ second-largest trade partner, mainly exporting electronic goods.
The tensions over the South China Sea prompted Beijing to advise its tourists against visiting the Philippines in 2014. With increasing numbers of Chinese tourists now heading to Asean, Manila hopes the advice will be removed.
Before the trip Duterte told Chinese cable station Phoenix TV, that military support from the US was inadequate and said he planned to buy Chinese weapons and vessels to reform his military. “If China does not help us in this endeavour, we will find it hard,” Duterte said.
Beijing has kept quiet on Duterte’s controversial war on drugs that has attracted condemnation from Washington and the UN.