MANILA - China and the Philippines have agreed to elevate their relationship into a "strategic cooperation," visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping said Tuesday, as Beijing sought to counter decades-long American dominance in the Pacific nation.
Xi announced this after he emerged from a closed-door meeting with Duterte on the first day of his 2-day state visit to the Philippines.
“Just now, the President and I had a friendly, in-depth and a productive meeting. We charted the future course of China-Philippines relations, and drew an ambitious blueprint for its development. The President and I both agreed to elevate our relationship into one of comprehensive, strategic cooperation,” Xi said in a joint press conference with Duterte.
“This vision charts a clear course for China-Philippines relations and sends a strong message to the world that our two countries are partners in seeking common development.”
The United States is the only country with which the Philippines has a treaty alliance, but Duterte has sought to pivot to China since assuming office amid Beijing’s rise in the region.
Duterte’s rapprochement with China has eased Manila’s tension with Beijing amid unresolved disputes over the South China Sea, but critics say the Filipino leader has compromised the country’s sovereignty with his policy.
The Philippine President has said he would never surrender the country’s claims to the sea and would bring up at the appropriate time Manila’s arbitration victory against Beijing.
Xi said while the Philippines and China “have a lot of common interests in the South China Sea,” the two countries would continue to manage contentious issues and promote maritime cooperation through friendly consultation.
Duterte, for his part, hailed the “positive momentum” in Philippines-China relations and the “deepening trust and confidence [between] our governments.”
The Filipino leader also highlighted the need for “mutual respect, sincerity, and adherence to sovereign equality” in nurturing the ties between the two countries.
“I will continue to work closely with President Xi to deepen the relationship between our great countries so we may together secure a peaceful and prosperous future for both our peoples and for the entire region,” Duterte said.
China is claiming nearly all of the resource-rich South China Sea, conflicting with partial claims of the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan.
It has ignored a July 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed panel that invalidated its assertion of sovereignty over the waters in response to a Philippine plea.
Duterte has set aside this ruling as he sought to repair ties between Manila and China long frayed over the dispute.
GOOD NEIGHBORS, FRIENDSHIP ONLY RIGHT CHOICE
Xi underscored the need for China and the Philippines to become “good neighbors,” saying this “serves the fundamental interests of both nations, and it meets the shared aspiration of all in the region.”
In several of his speeches, Xi said friendship is "the only right choice" for China and the Philippines.
“Recognizing the wisdom in the saying, all creatures may grow together without harming other, all roads may run parallel without interfering with one another,” he said.
“Both sides agree that there is no one-size-fits-all development model, and that every country has a right to choose its own path.”
Xi also said China and the Philippines face similar developmental challenges which make the two “natural partners with a common destiny.”
“As our two countries forge ahead as win-win partners, China will continue to do its modest best to help and support the Philippines,” he said.
“Our support will come in many forms, from lending a hand to your counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism struggle, to helping to repair roads and bridges in Marawi and build new infrastructure there,” Xi said, in reference to the war-ravaged Islamic city.
The Chinese leader also promised to import more Filipino products, provide another 50 government scholarship grants for Filipino students, and implement arrangements for Filipino teachers of the English language to work in China.
Xi also announced that China would donate 10,000 tons of rice to help communities devastated by Typhoon Ompong in September.
The two leaders discussed mutual concerns on defense, security, maritime cooperation, law enforcement, transnational crime, and strengthening the two countries’ partnership against drug trafficking.
They also touched on cooperation in enhancing two-way tourism, agriculture, education, science and technology, and cultural exchanges.
During Xi's visit in Malacañang, China and the Philippines signed several pacts, including a memorandum of understanding for a cooperation on oil and gas development.