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China’s Xi courts PHL, offers billions of dollars in aid, loans

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By CLAIRE MORALES TRUE

 

 

MANILA – China’s President Xi Jinping travelled to Manila this week and embarked on a new campaign to claim the Philippines as a “strategic ally” veering away from the United States by offering billions of dollars in aid and loans to his “friend” President Rodrigo Duterte.

 

Xi made the two-day visit two years after Duterte declared he was reorienting his foreign policy away from the United States and towards China, despite decades of mistrust and bitter maritime disputes with Beijing.

 

Following a close-door meeting in Malacanang, Xi declared that he and Duterte agreed to elevate their relationship into a "strategic cooperation" as Beijing sought to counter decades-long American dominance in the Philippines.

 

As part of his campaign, the Chinese leader promised to import more Filipino products, provide another 50 government scholarship grants for Filipino students, and implement arrangements for Filipino teachers of the English language to work in China.

 

Xi also announced that China would donate 10,000 tons of rice to help communities devastated by Typhoon Ompong in September.

 

The two leaders discussed mutual concerns on defense, security, maritime cooperation, law enforcement, transnational crime, and strengthening the two countries’ partnership against drug trafficking. 

 

They also touched on cooperation in enhancing two-way tourism, agriculture, education, science and technology, and cultural exchanges.

 

During Xi's visit in Malacañang, China and the Philippines signed several pacts, including a memorandum of understanding for a cooperation on oil and gas development.

 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi exchanged signed copies of the memorandum of understanding on cooperation on oil and gas development.

 

Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi described the cooperation as a “solution [on] how we can enjoy resources in the area,” referring to the disputed South China Sea.

 

The oil and gas deal was one of 29 pacts involving trade and investment, banking and finance, infrastructure, agriculture, education, culture, and people-to-people exchanges that the Philippines and China signed during the 2-day state visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

 

Xi also invited Duterte to attend the 2nd Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation which China will host again in 2019.

 

Xi extended his invitation to Duterte as the two leaders witnessed the exchange of 29 agreements, including memorandum of understanding on Belt and Road Initiative cooperation after their expanded bilateral meeting at the Malacañang Palace.

 

“The two sides will seek greater complementarity between China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Philippines’ development strategy move forward cooperation around the three pillars of security, development, and people-to-people ties and then make our cooperation more comprehensive and balanced,” Xi said.

 

“Just now, the President and I had a friendly, in-depth and a productive meeting. We charted the future course of China-Philippines relations, and drew an ambitious blueprint for its development. The President and I both agreed to elevate our relationship into one of comprehensive, strategic cooperation,” Xi said in a joint press conference with Duterte.

 

“This vision charts a clear course for China-Philippines relations and sends a strong message to the world that our two countries are partners in seeking common development.”

 

The United States is the only country with which the Philippines has a treaty alliance, but Duterte has sought to pivot to China since assuming office amid Beijing’s rise in the region.

 

Duterte’s rapprochement with China has eased Manila’s tension with Beijing amid unresolved disputes over the South China Sea, but critics say the Filipino leader has compromised the country’s sovereignty with his policy.

 

A Social Weather Stations survey released late on Monday showed 84 percent of Filipinos felt it was wrong not to oppose China’s militarization of its man-made islands, and 86 percent believed it was right to strengthen the Philippine military, especially the navy.

 

The poll of 1,200 people conducted in late September also showed trust in the United States remained “very good”, but China was considered “poor”.

 

Farmers and other groups held a protest rally outside China’s embassy in Makati City while Presidents Xi and Duterte were meeting in Malacanang.

 

Philippine Twitter and Facebook feeds were also flooded with Winnie the Pooh memes in a winking expression of anti-China sentiment stirred by President Xi's state visit to Manila.

 

The self-described "bear of very little brain" has been used in the past on social media to poke fun at portly Xi, a joke that has drawn crackdowns from Beijing's censors.

 

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo shrugged off the survey, saying Duterte’s strategy was to avoid a potential “inferno” of conflict while reaping the rewards of improved business.

 

“They are not aware of the real geopolitics in the region. The president is a very cautious diplomat,” Panelo declared in a television interview.

 

“Rather than provoke, he’d rather talk with them and get some trade relations that will benefit this country.”

 

China will reap better the benefits from its closer ties with the Philippines, according to a maritime affairs and law of sea expert.

 

"Overall, long-term parang ang mas makakalamang dito ang China dahil para sa kanila napakahalagang breakthrough ang Pilipinas, na ma-engganyo ang Pilipinas na medyo lumayo-layo sa U.S. at ma-place siya closer sa kanyang influence," said University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea Director Jay Batongbacal.

 

Earlier, US Vice President Mike Pence warned the Philippines and other countrries about China's supposed "debt diplomacy."

 

The Philippine President has said he would never surrender the country’s claims to the sea and would bring up at the appropriate time Manila’s arbitration victory against Beijing.

 

Xi said while the Philippines and China “have a lot of common interests in the South China Sea,” the two countries would continue to manage contentious issues and promote maritime cooperation through friendly consultation.

 

Duterte, for his part, hailed the “positive momentum” in Philippines-China relations and the “deepening trust and confidence [between] our governments.”

 

The Filipino leader also highlighted the need for “mutual respect, sincerity, and adherence to sovereign equality” in nurturing the ties between the two countries.

 

“I will continue to work closely with President Xi to deepen the relationship between our great countries so we may together secure a peaceful and prosperous future for both our peoples and for the entire region,” Duterte said.

 

China is claiming nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea, conflicting with partial claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan. 

 

It has ignored a July 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed panel that invalidated its assertion of sovereignty over the waters in response to a Philippine plea. 

 

Xi underscored the need for China and the Philippines to become “good neighbors,” saying this “serves the fundamental interests of both nations, and it meets the shared aspiration of all in the region.” 

 

In several of his speeches, Xi said friendship is "the only right choice" for China and the Philippines.

 

“Recognizing the wisdom in the saying, all creatures may grow together without harming other, all roads may run parallel without interfering with one another,” he said.

 

“Both sides agree that there is no one-size-fits-all development model, and that every country has a right to choose its own path.”

 

Xi also said China and the Philippines face similar developmental challenges which make the two “natural partners with a common destiny.”

 

“As our two countries forge ahead as win-win partners, China will continue to do its modest best to help and support the Philippines,” he said.

 

“Our support will come in many forms, from lending a hand to your counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism struggle, to helping to repair roads and bridges in Marawi and build new infrastructure there,” Xi said, in reference to the war-ravaged Islamic city. 

 

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