MANILA - China’s foreign minister Wang Yi on Sunday commended the warming up of relations between his country and the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, saying befriending Beijing was a step in the right direction for Manila.
Wang, garbed in the traditional Filipino costume barong, was in Davao City on Sunday to attend the birthday celebration of former Philippine foreign affairs secretary Alan Peter Cayetano.
In his toast for Cayetano, Wang commended the Philippines’ former top diplomat for helping to revive Philippines-China ties which for years were marred by the bitter South China Sea dispute.
“When Mr. Cayetano served as the foreign secretary, one of his most important accomplishments was that he has followed the direction and instruction of President Duterte to overcome various kind of difficulties and help bring about a full turnaround of the bilateral relations between China and the Philippines, helping to put the bilateral relations back on the right path. In my view he has made great success in doing this job,” Wang said in Chinese.
Wang said the revival of the ties was beneficial for the Philippines.
“Facts have proven and will continue to prove that the friendly policy towards China adopted by President Duterte is completely in keeping with the fundamental and long-term interest of the Philippines and the Filipinos,” he said.
In his speech, Wang also described Duterte as “the most respected and the most important friend for President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people.”
But most of Wang’s toast was centered on the birthday celebrator, Cayetano, who he said was a great leader and a visionary.
“You have the trust of President Duterte and the people of the Philippines because you are a young man but with a far vision. You are a political leader with a strong sense of responsibility and you are a good man with affection to the people surrounding you,” Wang said.
“Mr. Cayetano may not be old in age but certainly he has the Philippines, his nation, in his heart. When he served as foreign secretary, he advanced the interest of the Philippines worldwide. He is not only a great political leader, he is also a very successful diplomat.”
When he assumed the presidency, Duterte sought closer ties with China as he veered the Philippines away from its Western allies, led by the United States. The President’s animosity towards the West is partly fueled by its criticism to his war on drugs and human rights record.
In exchange for warmer ties with China, Duterte has downplayed the Philippines maritime dispute with the Asian power.
“I’d like to assure the Foreign Minister that the Philippines is very happy with the present trade and… the fact that you have provided livelihood at least to a lot of people,” Duterte said.
“We have normalized our relationship and I thank you China for all the things that you have done for me.”
The Philippines under Duterte has also sought a joint exploration with China in the South China Sea, a proposition favored by Beijing, even though critics say this is in violation of the Philippine constitution.
In his speech, Duterte told Wang, “Maybe you can allow us, your excellency, in the long term, maybe payable, I'm sure our friendship will enjoy a thousand years. So if you can grant us a facility, a loan, payable within 100 years, I'm sure."