FOR the second time, President Rodrigo Duterte will visit China, this time to attend the Beijing-led “One Belt, One Road” summit, which he said would boost cooperation and connectivity between Beijing and Manila.
In an interview with China’s official news agency Xinhua, Duterte on Friday said developing countries like the Philippines need connectivity with other nations in the region “to develop a healthy economy and inclusive growth.”
“I understand the Belt and Road Initiative is primarily an economic undertaking that will build these connections among the countries, and result in mutual benefit that includes increased trade and market access,” the President was quoted as saying.
“Healthy and robust economic exchanges are key to achieving the goal. It is our hope that many initiatives, including OBOR [One Belt One Road], can be part of these wider exchanges,” he added.
Leaders from 28 countries, including Duterte and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, are set to join the forum. The most prominent attendee from the West will be Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni of Italy.
Other Western nations, including the United States, will be represented by officials of lower standing.
Washington is sending a delegation led by Eric Branstad, senior White House adviser. Britain, Germany and France are to be represented by finance officials.
“One Belt, One Road” is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s landmark program to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe.
Spanning 65 countries and accounting for two-thirds of the world’s population and a third of GDP, the Chinese initiative is intended to increase trade flows and boost long-term regional economic growth.
For Duterte, the Belt and Road Initiative, which calls for infrastructure connectivity, complements the Philippine government’s development plan for 2017 to 2022.
The Philippine government recently unveiled “Dutertenomics,” an economic strategy to transform the Philippines into an upper middle-income economy by 2022 and close to a high-income one by 2040.
“It [China’s Belt and Road Initiative] is in line with my administration’s golden age of infrastructure of increased investments on infrastructure projects,” Duterte said.
The President said he was hoping that world leaders attending the forum “will have productive dialogues that will enlighten us on the gaps that need to be addressed.”
“I would like to listen to the views of many countries around the table…We also would want to learn from the development experiences of other participant countries, particularly with the opportunities offered by the OBOR to enhance economic growth and address global economic challenges,” he said.
Duterte, chairman of this year’s Association of Southeast Asian Nations, thanked China for its continued support for the Asean community, including pushing for Asean-led initiatives to promote connectivity.
“We are optimistic that OBOR will further contribute to the enhancement of Asean-China cooperation, as it paves the way for more mutually beneficial economic activities between our two sides,” Duterte said.
‘Bilateral ties progressing’
The trip is Duterte’s second visit to Beijing after his state visit last October.
Ties between Manila and Beijing were strained under the administration of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino 3rd, after the Philippines asserted its maritime claims on the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
But Duterte has overhauled the Philippines’ diplomatic relations since taking office by courting China to fund his ambitious infrastructure projects while distancing himself from Washington, Manila’s traditional ally and Beijing’s strategic rival.
The Philippine President also maintained that he would not raise just yet before China the arbitration award won by the Philippines from a UN-backed tribunal in July 2016.
Duterte admitted that there are still some challenges in the relations between Beijing and Manila, which includes the South China Sea dispute.
“But I believe that we have many avenues to address these issues, one of which is the bilateral consultation mechanism,” he added.
Duterte said he and Xi, during a phone conversation earlier this month, “agree that the bilateral relations of both countries have been developing quite well, and that we are progressively expanding the areas where both sides can cooperate and dialogue.”
The President said he hoped to see more development in economic and people-to-people relations between the two countries.
“I think that if we keep our minds on the benefits of peace and economic progress, and for as long as we are guided by the need for mutually beneficial relations, then I believe our relationship will continue to grow in a satisfactory and stable manner,” he said.