Friendly reminder

April 26, 2019
Rodrigo Duterte and Li Keqiang
President Duterte shakes hands with China's Premier Li Keqiang (R) before their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Thursday. The Philippine leader also met with President Xi Jinping AFP

PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has reminded China’s President Xi Jinping that allies should not “destroy” each other as the chief executive called Beijing’s attention to the developments in the disputed South China Sea.

Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President raised the situation in Philippine-held Pag-asa Island during a meeting with the Chinese official in Beijing, where Duterte is attending the second Belt and Road Forum.

Reports have noted the growing presence of Chinese vessels, suspected to have militiamen on board, near the area.

The President recently told Beijing to lay off Pag-asa or else he would deploy troops there for a “suicide mission” if they touch it.

“Both agree that the situation can be managed by the mechanism of bilateral negotiations but it should not affect the cooperation being undertaken by both the Philippines and China and they look forward to a productive discussion on matters of mutual concern and interests,” Panelo said.

The Palace spokesperson’s statement was silent on whether the President discussed with Xi the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s excessive claims to the resource-rich South China Sea and spelled out the Philippines’ maritime entitlements.

In his remarks, Xi underscored the importance of “good neighborliness and proper handling of differences” between the Philippines and China.

“While the Chinese leader acknowledged the inevitable of having challenges to the bilateral relations, he placed importance on the mutual trust that exists between the two nations in order to resolve the same,” Panelo said.

Panelo said Xi cited the memorandum of understanding on cooperation on oil and gas development in the South China Sea as an example where both the Philippines and China “suspended their differences for a joint exploration that would mutually benefit both countries and their peoples.”

“The Chief Executive culminated the talk with the Chinese President articulating his position that the Philippines remains China’s ally in Southeast Asia,” the Palace official said.

“The former emphasized that both countries are allies, and allies strengthen—and do not destroy – each other.”

Xi described Duterte during the meeting as a “genuine friend” and “trusted partner.” The Chinese leader also hailed the improved ties between the two countries.

Since he assumed the presidency in 2016, Duterte has taken steps to mend ties with China, marred by territorial spats in the South China Sea, in order to tap the Asian powerhouse’s deep pockets for much needed investment in infrastructure and cement trade deals.