BEIJING: President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping witnessed the signing of a maritime cooperation agreement and 12 other deals, pledging to enhance trust and deepen cooperation Thursday as Manila seeks to rebalance its foreign policy away from the US.
China welcomed Duterte – who donned a suit and tie for the occasion – with an official ceremony outside the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square, with the two leaders striding side-by-side down the red carpet inspecting an honor guard, with children cheering.
Xi called the two countries “neighbors across the sea,” the official Xinhua news agency said.
Duterte is in China for a four-day trip seen as confirming his tilt away from Washington and towards Beijing’s sphere of influence – and its deep pockets.
The two leaders held “extensive” and “amicable” official talks and oversaw the signing of bilateral cooperation documents on business, infrastructure, and agriculture, among other fields, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, without giving details.
In a statement, the foreign ministry quoted Xi as telling Duterte their emotional foundation of friendly and good neighborliness was unchanged, and difficult topics of discussion “could be shelved temporarily.”
Duterte called the meeting “historic,” it added.
It was unclear whether the Memorandum on Understanding (MOU) on the Establishment of a Joint Coastal Guard Committee on Maritime Cooperation would involve joint patrols in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which is being contested by the two countries.
Asked whether the leaders had discussed the South China Sea, the foreign ministry’s Hua said they had a “candid and friendly exchange of views on how to resolve relevant disputes.”
Their meeting represented a “return to the right track of dialogue and consultation” she said, adding China was willing to make “relevant arrangements” to cooperate on fishery issues.
Before his trip to Beijing, Duterte said he would demand that China give back Filipinos’ fishing rights in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
He later on said he would not make any “hard impositions” or ask for concessions from the Chinese during the state visit.
A UN-backed arbitration court in July ruled in favor of the Philippines on the sea dispute and declared that China’s claims to the South China Sea had no basis. Beijing refuses to recognize the ruling.
Aside from maritime cooperation, officials from both countries signed 12 agreements on trade, investments and tourism, narcotics and others in an expanded bilateral meeting at the Great Hall.
These include MOU on Production Capacity and Investment Cooperation; Agreement on Economic and Technological Cooperation between the Government of China and the Philippines; the MOU on Strengthening Trade, Investment and Economic Cooperation; the MOU on Drafting China-Philippines Economic Cooperation Development Plans and the Tourism; the MOU Implementation Plan 2017-2022; the MOU on the Lists of Transportation and Infrastructure Cooperation Projects; the MOU on Financing Cooperation between the Export-Import Bank of China and the Bureau of the Treasury of the Philippines; the MOU on Agricultural Cooperation Action Plan 2017-2019; the Protocol on Cooperation between the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency and the Narcotics Control Bureau of the Ministry of Public Security of China; the MOU on Supporting Conduct of Feasibility Studies for Major Projects; MOU on News Information Exchange Training and for Other Purposes; and the MOU on Cooperation on Animal and Plant Inspection and Quarantine.
‘No joint exploration’
Duterte earlier thumbed down the possibility of joint exploration between Manila and Beijing in the disputed West Philippine Sea.
In a press conference in Beijing Wednesday, the President ruled out discussions with Chinese President Xi on energy exploration.
“No, I do not think that would be right,” Duterte said, adding that the proposal for joint exploration should have the consent of Congress and the people.
“If you plan to give up something, if you plan to share what you have, if it is really yours, then you cannot talk about it only on your own. This has to be with the consent of Congress and everybody, every Filipino involved,” he said.
“So at this time, I am not empowered to do that,” the President added.