MANILA - The Philippines is getting ready for the arrival on Tuesday of Chinese President Xi Jinping, considered the most important foreign ally of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Xi will be making his first state visit to the Philippines on Nov. 20 to 21, in what the Palace described as a “turning point” in the Philippines and China’s histories.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a statement that Xi’s visit “marks an opportunity to further strengthen and sustain our bilateral relations with the foreign country, which surged forward under the visionary leadership of President Duterte.”
“The story of the Philippines’ relationship with China dates back in the pre-Spanish times. Since then, Filipinos and Chinese always shared a special partnership as traders and entrepreneurs. We consider our country’s long-lasting friendship with China and the presence of Chinese and Chinese-Filipinos in the country as integral parts of our own growth and progress,” Panelo said.
Xi’s state visit to the Philippines, expected to be held under tight security, will be the first of a Chinese president in 13 years. The last Chinese president to hold a state visit to the Philippines was Hu Jintao in April 2005.
Xi made his last visit to the Philippines in November 2015 to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders’ meeting. The Philippine president at that time was Benigno Aquino III, who hailed China to a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal over the South China Sea dispute and won.
Duterte has opted to downplay the Philippines’ maritime dispute with China in pursuit of improved economic ties with the world’s second-largest economy. As he pivoted towards China, Duterte tried to distance the Philippines from its long-standing ally, the United States, a move partly fueled by Washington’s criticism of his drug war and human rights record.
China is now considered a top trading partner of the Philippines, a leading export market for the Philippines, and one of the largest tourist origins to the Philippines, Panelo noted, even as analysis showed that Duterte’s move to improve ties with Beijing has produced a small dividend so far.
Duterte had said that despite his government’s rapprochement with China, he will never surrender the country’s claims to the sea and will bring up at the appropriate time Manila’s arbitration victory against Beijing. His recent statement that China is now “in possession” of the South China Sea, however, has alarmed critics and observers.
The Philippines and China, along with Southeast Asian nations, are now working on coming up with code that will govern the behavior of claimant states to the sea, but some observers say this may be too late, as China has already cemented its claim by building artificial islands int he strategic sea lane.
Panelo said the administration thanks Xi for his “continued efforts to promote peace and stability in our region, through dialogues and consultations in handling the South China Sea issue, as we share his aspiration to bring our nations’ relationship to a higher level of collaboration.
“Indeed, amity solves international disputes and even forges a more powerful alliance between both countries against threats to security, including terrorism, violent extremism, criminality, and the drug menace,” Panelo said.
“The Philippines and China’s shared hopes for their citizens continue to pave the way for closer bonds between the two nations. Owing to President Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s cautious, pragmatic and diplomatic yet independent foreign policy, we anticipate more opportunities to forge better cooperation and friendship with China.”
Xi is expected to spend the first day of his state visit in Malacañang, where he will be welcomed by Duterte and be treated to state banquet in the evening.
The Chinese president’s first official stop will be at the Rizal Park for a wreath-laying ceremony at the monument of national hero Jose Rizal.
Several agreements are also expected to be signed during Xi’s visit.
Xi will meet with lawmakers and members of the Filipino-Chinese community the following day before he departs for Beijing.