Duterte thanks China for help in Marawi crisis

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Nov 16 2017 07:51 AM

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang shakes hands with President Rodrigo Duterte at Malacanang Palace in metro Manila, Wednesday. Dondi Tawatao, Reuters

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday thanked China for donating arms to fight pro-Islamic State militants, in another sign of warming ties.

China in June gave thousands of guns to Philippine security forces as they battled insurgents who had besieged the southern city of Marawi in a bid to create an IS province there.

Duterte made the remarks to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who was visiting the Philippines a day after attending a regional summit in Manila along with US President Donald Trump and other world leaders.

"It was China who responded immediately (to) our cry for help," Duterte said of the Marawi crisis.

"Maybe in the future, the Philippines would also show its debt of gratitude to China for all of the fundings, public works, bridges and all," he added, referring to other forms of aid from Beijing.

The United States and Australia provided direct military assistance in the battle for Marawi, including reconnaissance flights above the city as Philippine troops took on the militants, and have also pledged aid for its reconstruction.

Li said China would provide 150 million yuan (P1.15 billion) for the rehabilitation of Marawi, which has been largely reduced to rubble after the 5-month conflict ended last month.

"We have full confidence that under your leadership, Mr. President, and the leadership of your government, the rebuilding of Marawi will be completed at a very early date," said Li in a news conference with Duterte at the presidential palace.

Sino-Philippine relations have improved since Duterte's election last year as he sought to downplay his nation's maritime row with China over the South China Sea in favour of billions of dollars in trade and investment.

Last year a UN-backed tribunal rejected Beijing's claims to most of the waters.

But Duterte has refused to use the decision as leverage as he sought warmer relations with China and Russia while loosening his nation's 71-year alliance with the United States.

However, Duterte has said ties with the US have improved under Trump, whom he met at this week's summit.

Li and Duterte on Wednesday witnessed the signing of economic agreements including loans for infrastructure projects and said their nations would work to further improve ties.

Li is the first Chinese premier to visit the Philippines in a decade.