Duterte urged to choose China for first foreign visit

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 11 2016 06:39 PM | Updated as of Jul 11 2016 07:53 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte receives Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua at the presidential palace.

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte should consider China for his first foreign visit whatever the outcome of the Philippines' international arbitration case, Manila's former envoy to the United Nations said Monday.

A visit would mean that the Philippines "is really going out of her way to manage the situation in the West Philippine Sea," said retired Ambassador Lauro Baja.

"It will mean a lot, not only to China, but I think to the stakeholders in the area (as well)," he told ABS-CBN News.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague is set to rule Tuesday on the case filed by the Philippines questioning the legality of China's claim over most of the South China Sea.

Baja noted that Philippine presidents were usually expected to visit the United States, a close ally, or a Southeast Asian neighbor.

But the retired envoy said the US would "understand" a decision to turn first to China, an "immediate neighbor."

"In the context of what is logical, in the context of what is practical, in the context of what is strategic, you visit first the country with which you have a major issue, and that's at the moment China," he said.

Baja said Duterte should realize that Beijing was "dropping hints" on how the dispute could be resolved, like when Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Duterte twice on his victory.

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua pointed this out over dinner with members of the Philippine Ambassadors' Foundation at Zhao's residence in Makati City last July 4, said Baja, who was present at the gathering.

"He emphasized that one. Never in the history of China raw had they congratulated twice," Baja recalled. "One must really read tea leaves here."