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China's Xi says hopes Duterte's visit can improve ties with Philippines

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Thursday that he hoped Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's "milestone" visit to China could help "fully improve" ties between the two countries

October 20

0:00
2016

Beijing , China, People's Republic of - 20 Oct 2016 - Reuters

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Thursday that he hoped Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's "milestone" visit to China could help "fully improve" ties between the two countries, which have suffered over disputes in the South China Sea.Duterte arrived in Beijing on Tuesday with at least 200 top business people to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance, amid deteriorating relations with longtime ally the United States.

The effort to engage China, months after a ruling in the Hague over South China Sea disputes in favor of the Philippines, marks a reversal in Philippine foreign policy since Duterte took office on June 30. Xi told Duterte during a meeting at Beijing's Great Hall of the People that China and the Philippines were brothers and that the two sides could "appropriately handle disputes", though he did not specifically mention the South China Sea row.

"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," he said.

Duterte was greeted Thursday by Xi with full military honors at the Great Hall of the People, the seat of the ceremonial legislature in the heart of Beijing. The two are due to oversee the signing of a raft of agreements between their governments following their discussions .China has hailed Duterte's visit as a step toward ending years of estrangement between the countries. Tensions ran high after the Philippines won a major arbitration lawsuit against Beijing's massive territorial claims in the South China Sea just three months ago.

Duterte pressed his message that he wished to strengthen cooperation with China, calling his visit "very significant" and an indication of a "springtime" in relations." Stretching back centuries, China has been a friend of the Philippines and the roots of our bonds are deep and not easily severed," Duterte told Xi. "Even as we arrived in Beijing close to winter, this is the springtime of our relationship.

“What kept us from China was not our own making. I will charter a new course,” he said. Foreign policy under Duterte has dramatically shifted from that pursued under predecessor Benigno Aquino III, who took Beijing to an international tribunal over its extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea and won a resounding victory. Hours before he spoke, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing that Beijing was pleased to move towards resolving the territorial dispute “through consultation and dialogue”.

The move infuriated Beijing. But Duterte, who took office in June shortly before the tribunal ruling, has made a point of not flaunting the outcome. He has also suspended joint US-Philippine patrols in the South China Sea, and has threatened an end to joint military exercises.

"Duterte's congenial tone in Beijing is in contrast to the language he has used with long-time ally Washington, having called U.S. President Barack Obama a "son of a bitch", and railed against U.S. criticism of his war on drugs, which has led to the deaths of 2,300 people.

His hardline drug war tactics have raised concerns in Western capitals about extrajudicial killings, but China has expressed support for the campaign. China has welcomed the Philippines' new efforts to embrace China, even as Duterte has vowed not to surrender any sovereignty to Beijing, which views the South China Sea maritime ruling as null and void.

Duterte on Wednesday said the South China Sea arbitration case would "take the back seat" during talks, and that he would wait for the Chinese to bring up the dispute rather than doing so himself. He also said it was “time to say goodbye” to the US, as the combative leader reconfigures his country’s diplomatic alliances.

Duterte is in China for a four-day trip that is expected to confirm his tilt away from Washington and towards Beijing’s sphere of influence. During a speech addressing the Filipino community in Beijing, the firebrand president said the Philippines had gained little from its long alliance with the US, its former colonial ruler.

“Your stay in my country was for your own benefit. So time to say goodbye, my friend,” he said, as if addressing the US.  “I will not go to America anymore. I will just be insulted there,” he added, before once again referring to US President Barack Obama as a “son of a whore.”

The South China Sea is of intense interest to Washington and it has repeatedly spoken out on the various territorial disputes between China and its neighbours over the strategically vital waters. Tensions have risen between the US and China over Washington’s so-called “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific, a move that Beijing says is intended to contain it. Duterte will meet top leaders including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during his stay.

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