THE Philippines wants to expand and deepen relations with China, President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday as officials from the two countries signed four agreements in an indication of further normalization of ties despite a dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Duterte assured Chinese President Xi Jinping that he would pursue peaceful means to resolve the maritime row, as he welcomed the opening of bilateral consultations on the dispute later this week.
Duterte held bilateral meetings with Xi and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang in Beijing, where the Philippine leader joined 28 other heads of state and government in the “Belt and Road” Forum for International Cooperation.
Manila and Beijing inked four memoranda of understanding covering communications, economic and technical cooperation, human resource, and energy.
In his speech during his bilateral meeting with Li, Duterte underscored the two countries’ long history of friendly exchanges and a deep traditional friendship.
“I am pleased to be back in Beijing upon invitation of your government. We have yet another important opportunity to take stock of our state of relations and the progress we have achieved since my state visit last year,” Duterte said.
“I look forward to more fruitful and productive discussion as we seek to expand and deepen the friendly ties between our nations and peoples. As I’ve said before the Philippines and China are writing a new chapter of collaboration in these modern times,” he added.
This was the second time for Duterte and Xi to meet in Beijing. Duterte first met with the Chinese President during his state visit to Beijing in October last year.
“Allow me to highlight the following: on strengthening bilateral relations, my state visit last year affirmed our mutual interest in furthering our partnership,” Duterte said.
“We have signed many agreements and resumed formal bilateral dialogue mechanisms such as the foreign ministry consultations. These steps are just in the right direction. We should use this mechanism into dialogue openly to further ensure progress,” he added.
In a dramatic shift in Philippine foreign policy, Duterte, since assuming office last year, has taken steps to mend ties with China while distancing himself from Washington over its criticisms of his war against illegal drugs.
An international tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands delivered on July 12, 2016 a sweeping victory to the Philippines on the arbitration case it filed against China, invalidating Beijing’s massive and historical claims on nearly the entire South China Sea.
Duterte has said he would temporarily set aside the ruling to avoid confrontation with China, but vowed to raise it at the right time.
Infra plan touted
Duterte capped the Beijing trip by touting his administration’s “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program before world leaders attending the two-day “Belt and Road” summit.
In a statement, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Duterte stressed his administration’s commitment “to finding a path that prioritizes inclusive growth for those that need growth most in the Philippines.”
“The President introduced the Philippines’ ‘Build, Build, Build’ program in this context, saying that this program aspires for high-impact projects to connect people, create jobs and bring down the cost of doing business through logistical support and infrastructure,” the DFA said.
“He (Duterte) said, it is hoped that agriculture can be modernized and industrialization expanded to give farmers, producers and manufacturers more efficient and cost-effective access to internal and external markets,” it added.
According to the DFA, the President noted that the country’s infrastructure program could “complement regional and international connectivity mechanisms, such as China’s One Belt One Road initiative and the Asean Master Plan on Connectivity.”
Duterte also highlighted the Philippine government’s strict enforcement of laws to address the illegal drug trade, and talked about his determination to combat corruption in government.
During a roundtable session, Duterte pushed for “clean and green” construction, saying the environment should be the strong foundation upon which infrastructure is built.
“Describing green and sustainable designs as able to minimize or prevent the adverse impact on natural ecosystems, President Duterte said that sustainability of infrastructure can guarantee quality of life and support human welfare and well-being,” the DFA said.
“As a pole of industrial growth, the emergence of modern, cost-effective and eco-friendly technologies can create jobs and economic opportunities,” it added.
The DFA said Duterte also “extolled the use of traditional practices and processes that have proven to be environmentally friendly.”
After the roundtable session chaired by Chinese President Xi, the leaders adopted a joint communique on “different aspects of connectivity, trade, investment and infrastructure, financing and synergies with national and development priorities.”
The Chinese-bankrolled One Belt, One Road Initiative, unveiled in 2013, seeks to link the country with Africa, Asia and Europe through an enormous network of ports, railways, roads, and industrial parks.
The initiative spans 65 countries representing 60 percent of the world population and around a third of global gross domestic product. The China Development Bank has earmarked $890 billion for some 900 projects.