MANILA – (UPDATED) President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday talked on the phone to discuss the South China Sea issue and tensions in the Korean Peninsula.
A report by Chinese state-run news agency Xinhua quoted Xi as saying that "a channel of dialogue and consultation" between the Philippines and China on the South China Sea issue has been set up.
“Xi said he met Duterte twice last year and reached important agreements with him. As a result, bilateral ties greatly improved, said Xi,” the Xinhua report reads.
“At present, the two countries are deepening political mutual trust and carrying out cooperation in various fields, he said.”
Malacañang also released a photo of Duterte talking to Xi on the phone. An accompanying caption says Duterte thanked Xi for inviting him to visit a Chinese warship which docked in Davao City last May 1.
Since assuming the presidency, Duterte has sought to forge closer ties with China, choosing to downplay Manila’s sea row with Beijing as he pursued improved economic relations.
The Xinhua report said Duterte and Xi also “exchanged views on the Korean Peninsula.”
The call between the two Asian leaders comes just days after US President Donald Trump phoned Duterte over the weekend, in what the White House described as a move by the American leader to consult US allies in Asia about North Korea's missile threats.
Duterte has urged the US and other Asian powers to go on easy on North Korea, which has rattled its neighbors, US allies Japan and South Korea, with its nuclear tests.
Duterte has said China plays an important role in lowering tensions between the US and North Korea, as Beijing is considered the closest and most powerful ally of Pyongyang.
The call is also considered yet another testament to the improving relations between Manila and Beijing.
During the time of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, high-level communications were practically suspended as the then-Filipino president took a tough stance against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Xi and Duterte had a "very cordial telephone conversation," where they talked about regional developments and "some concerns can be addressed."
"For his part, President Duterte shared Philippine positions on several salient issues, especially on developments in the Korean Peninsula, and he referred to China's important role in promoting peace on the Korean Peninsula," DFA said in a statement.
Duterte also spoke about how to strengthen ASEAN's ties with its partners.
"In his capacity as Chair of ASEAN, the President spoke about how to further strengthen ties with ASEAN's dialogue partners and shared the outcomes of the recently concluded successful ASEAN Summit. He also mentioned that as the Chair of ASEAN, ASEAN discussed and agreed on measures to promote ASEAN unity, centrality and solidarity as well as ASEAN commitment to continue promoting peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region," the statement said.