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Filipino, Chinese presidents meet in sign of further thaw

20 October 2016 16:56

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The Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has met with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, in a potential step toward the improvement of ties, which have recently been soured by a territorial dispute.

Duterte and Xi met at the Chinese capital, Beijing, on Thursday, with the official Xinhua news agency reporting that the two leaders were to hold official talks and sign a “series of cooperation documents” between their governments.

During the meeting, Duterte said the roots of the two countries’ bonds were deep and could not be easily harmed.

Cozying up to the dragon

The Chinese president also hailed Duterte’s visit as a step toward mending the damaged relations following years of tensions between the two countries.

“I hope we can follow the wishes of the people and use this visit as an opportunity to push China-Philippines relations back on a friendly footing and fully improve things,” Xi said.

Prior to the visit, the Filipino president had stressed his country’s pursuit of a shift away from Washington, a former long-standing ally, and toward Beijing, blasting the US’s policies and declaring an end to joint military exercises with the American military.

“So it’s about time to say good-bye, my friend. Your stay in my country was for you own benefit,” said Duterte, who has also called for the removal of US troops from a group of southern islands in the Philippines. “No more American interference. No more American exercises,” he added.

However, the Philippines became entangled in a bitter dispute with regional powerhouse China when it filed a complaint with an international tribunal over Chinese claims to territory in the South China Sea. The verdict by the international court, which was issued some three months ago and which favored the Philippines, angered China and provided ammo for Washington, which routinely pops in regional disputes unrelated to it.


The handout photo, taken on March 16, 2015, purports to show Chinese vessels dredging sand at a reef in the Spratly Islands in the disputed South China Sea. (Via AFP)

The tribunal accused Beijing of violating the Philippines’ economic and sovereign rights. China, however, rejected the ruling, saying the court had no jurisdiction over the issue.

China did say, however, that it was ready to engage in dialog with the Philippines if Manila ignored the court ruling.

China’s territorial claims to the South China Sea overlap in parts with those of Taiwan, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei — besides the Philippines.

Briefing reporters on the Thursday meeting between Duterte and Xi, a senior Chinese diplomat said the two had agreed to resume bilateral dialog on their territorial dispute.

“Both sides agreed that the South China Sea issue is not the sum total of the bilateral relationship,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin told reporters.

Liu said the leaders briefly touched on the issue during their talks and agreed to return to the approach used five years ago of seeking a settlement through bilateral dialog.

Duterte and the US: A Separation

Later during the day, President Duterte made his strongest non-vulgar assertion against the US, yet.

Speaking at a business forum in the presence of Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on Thursday, he said he was announcing his “separation” from Washington.

Duterte has previously used a series of obscenities to describe US President Barack Obama and other world officials.

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