MANILA - (UPDATED) President Rodrigo Duterte flew to China on Monday to speak before a business forum and meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Duterte, who sought closer ties with Beijing when he assumed power 2 years ago, will address the Boao Forum in the southern province of Hainan, dubbed as Asia's answer to the World Economic Forum held annually at the ski resort town of Davos in Swtizerland.
The President, in a speech ahead of his flight, said he will seek additional investments on infrastructure and inter-connectivity.
He said he and Xi, as "friends and sovereign equals," will review the progress of their efforts to "ensure prosperity for our nation and region."
Progress, Duterte noted, is not possible without territorial security, which is threatened by "transnational crimes, violent extremism, and unresolved disputes."
"We will do our part as a responsible nation to address these threats into the region's collective security," he vowed.
WHAT BOAO FORUM OFFERS
The Boao forum will be an opportunity for Duterte to "showcase the Philippines' economic achievements, the priorities of his administration—particularly in the sphere of business and economics—and to exchange views with other top leaders," Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana told reporters in Hainan.
The prime ministers of Singapore, Pakistan and Mongolia are expected to attend, said Sta. Romana. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guteres and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde will also be there.
It is unlikely that disputes in the South China Sea will be discussed in the Boao Forum, where Xi is expected to deliver a major speech, but this might be brought up during the bilateral meeting between Duterte and his Chinese counterpart, Foreign Affairs Undersecretary for International Relations Manuel Teehankee said last week.
"Addressing the BFA Plenary is a singular privilege for the Philippines and a privilege for acknowledging the President’s role and leadership in Asia and the ASEAN Region," Teehankee said of Duterte's speech, scheduled on Tuesday.
Sta. Romana said maritime disputes might not be the highlight of the forum, but there will be a side discussion among academics and diplomats on South China Sea. A representative from the Philippine embassy and former energy secretary Raphael Lotilla will attend the discussion, he said.
The bilateral talks between the leaders, meanwhile, are also expected to result in the signing of a final loan agreement on the Chico Dam project, said Sta. Romana.
Also during the Boao Forum, Filipino and Chinese officials will likely discuss a bilateral agreement on the deployment of 100,000 Filipino teachers to China, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello said.
It will be the President's third time visiting China. He will be on a working visit to Hong Kong later this week.
Duterte had sought closer economic and diplomatic ties with China, refusing to flaunt a UN-backed arbitration court's ruling in 2016 that invalidated Beijing's claims over islands, reefs and outcrops in the South China Sea.
Former President Benigno Aquino III, Duterte's predecessor, initiated the arbitration case but stepped down before the Permanent Court of Arbitration decided on the landmark case.
Duterte had said repeatedly that the Philippines would not surrender its claims to China, despite warmer ties.
The dispute may not be brought up during the bilateral meeting since both countries have agreed to discuss the matter through their bilateral consultative mechanism which is held twice a year, said Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea
Batongbacal said the 2 leaders were expected to discuss infrastructure projects and even the reconstruction of war-ravaged Marawi City.