Philippine president begins state visit that is expected to see economic issues dominate

by Liu Zhen and Kristin Huang /18 October, 2016 / SCMP

Philippine President Rodrigo ­Duterte said the South China Sea dispute was “not on the agenda” as he began his state visit to China late on Tuesday, with Beijing praising him for bringing damaged ties back to “the track of dialogue and cooperation”.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said ahead of ­Duterte’s arrival that the visit was “historic” and that no “individual” or “foreign force” could stand in the way of rebuilding the friendship between China and the Philippines. “Our arms are open and ready for friendship and cooperation,” Wang said.

Duterte arrived in China three months after relations between the two nations hit an all-time low, following an international court ruling that there was no legal basis for Beijing’s claims to much of the South China Sea.Duterte’s delegation includes some 400 business leaders. He is scheduled to meet President Xi Jinping on Thursday.

Duterte’s delegation includes some 400 business leaders. He is scheduled to meet President Xi Jinping on Thursday.

Arriving at his hotel in Beijing, Duterte said he expected to achieve “plenty of happiness for my country” during his trip to China, according to Reuters.

Asked about the South China Sea dispute, he said: “No, that is not one of the topics on the agenda. It might crop up but it is going to be a soft landing for everyone. No impositions.”

Analysts said Beijing would tolerate Duterte raising territorial disputes in the South China Sea during his visit as long as he didn’t push the issue too hard.

Doing so could jeopardise his goal of securing economic aid and business deals, they said. ­“Duterte’s main task in Beijing is to repair bilateral relations and secure cooperation, especially in economic areas, which are critical to him,” Wu Shicun, the president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said.

China also wants the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to be forgotten as quickly as possible, according to Xue Li, a researcher at the China Academy of Social Sciences.

As a result, the originally planned two-day trip has been elevated to a four-day state visit, the highest diplomatic level, to honour the Philippine leader.

Duterte will also meet Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and the chairman of the National People’s Congress, Zhang Dejiang. Read more…

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