MANILA—Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday sent thanks to President Rodrigo Duterte for hosting him on a 2-day state visit here earlier this week, saying their meeting affirmed the partnership between their countries.
The message came following his historic visit to the country on Tuesday and Wednesday, which put a spotlight on refreshed ties between Manila and Beijing despite unresolved disputes in the South China Sea.
"Upon the conclusion of my successful state visit to the Republic of the Philippines, I wish to extend my heartfelt thanks to you, Mr. President, and the Government and people of the Philippines for your friendship and warm hospitality," Xi said in a statement released by the Chinese Embassy in Manila Thursday night.
"During the visit, I was once again deeply touched by your sincerity and determination to grow our bilateral relations and by the friendly sentiment of the Philippine people toward the Chinese people," he said.
Xi was on an overnight visit here during which he held an extended bilateral meeting with Duterte, where the two leaders agreed to elevate Philippines-China relations into a strategic cooperation.
The Chinese leader also witnessed the signing of 29 bilateral deals, including a memorandum of understanding for oil and gas development.
The pact is known to cover the South China Sea, resource-rich waters China claims in near entirety, encroaching into the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The deal has drawn concerns from Vice President Leni Robredo and several senators as its full details have yet to be released.
Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a CNN Philippines interview on Thursday that the deal was an "agreement to agree." He made the assurance that it "will be without prejudice to the respective legal positions of both governments" on the maritime dispute.
The first Chinese president to go on a state visit in the Philippines in 13 years, Xi emphasized friendship between the two countries in his statements in Manila, saying it was "the only right choice" for both sides.
He reiterated this anew in his letter of gratitude to Duterte, saying he "set great store by China-Philippines relations and value my personal friendship with you."
Xi said he was "impressed" by Duterte's insights on Philippine-China relations and international affairs, saying these prove "once again that China and the Philippines are partners in a common journey toward peace and development."
"I will work with you to strengthen political mutual trust and deepen practical cooperation in all fields so that the tree of China-Philippines friendship will grow more luxuriant and bear more fruits," he said.
China has continued to assert indisputable sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, ignoring a July 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed panel that had invalidated this claim in response to a Philippine plea.
Duterte has set aside Manila's landmark victory as he sought to turn around long-frayed ties with Beijing, as part of a pivot away from the Philippines' traditional alliance with China's Asia-Pacific rival the US.