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BILATERAL MEETING IN MALACAÑANG

Duterte cites vigorous momentum in Manila-Beijing relations

President Rodrigo Duterte and China Premier Li Keqiang sharing light moments during their meeting at the Malacañan Palace. PHOTO BY EDWIN BACASMAS

Turning a new page in Chinese-Philippine relations, President Duterte welcomed Prime Minister Li Keqiang to Malacañang on Wednesday, the first official visit by a Chinese premier to the Philippines in 10 years.

Mr. Duterte held an extended bilateral meeting and hosted a state banquet for Li after China promised to fast-track negotiations for a code of conduct for claimants in the South China Sea.

“Premier Li’s visit is a momentous occasion for the Philippines, as it marks the first visit of a Chinese premier to Manila in 10 years. This shows the great strides that we have accomplished in the bilateral relations between our two countries since I assumed [office],” Mr. Duterte said.

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‘Positive turnaround’

“I am pleased to note the positive turnaround and vigorous momentum of Philippines-China relations. Mutual trust and confidence-building have led to increased interaction on many levels of our two governments,” he said.

“Practical cooperation in many areas is bringing in an early harvest of tangible benefits. Altogether, these concerted efforts of the Philippines and China have secured peace, stability and development in the region,” he added.

The two sides signed 14 agreements, including one on defense industry cooperation and another on a 200-million renminbi (P1.54 billion) bond issuance. China also promised 150 million reminbi (P1.15 billion) worth of grants to help rebuild Marawi.

“Winter has come to the northern hemisphere but the temperature in Manila is still running pretty high. I think that somewhat reflects the temperature of China-Philippine relations, which is also going pretty high on the basis of the positive improvement of the relations of the two countries,” Li said through an interpreter.

“We hope that we will continue to work together to strengthen this positive momentum and work together to make up for the time we may have lost,” he added.

Manila’s relations with Beijing soured in January 2013 after the Philippines questioned China’s sweeping claim to the South China Sea in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands.

Then President Benigno Aquino III made the move after China seized Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales in 2012.

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Last year, the tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines but Mr. Duterte decided not to assert the ruling, preferring instead to improve ties with China.

“Mr. President, you paid a successful visit to China last year that was an ice-breaking trip in the relations between our two countries,” Li said.

“I believe, in spite of some ups and downs in the relations between the two countries, the aspirations shared by the two peoples for taking our friendship forward and embracing an even brighter future for themselves has never changed,” he added.

Li and Mr. Duterte led the formal launching of China-funded bridge projects and the drug rehabilitation centers in the country as part of the premier’s activities on his official visit to the Philippines.

The two leaders unveiled the project plates for the Binondo-Intramuros and the Estrella-Pantaleon bridges in Metro Manila, as well as the drug treatment and rehabilitation centers in Sarangani and Agusan del Sur.

Work begins in 2018

Construction on the two bridge projects are scheduled to begin in 2018.

The two bridges  are expected to ease traffic congestion in Metro Manila.

They will be funded by a 661.8-million yuan (P5.1 billion) grant from China.

The grant is capped at that amount. Any project cost that exceeds this amount would no longer be covered.

The contractor for the bridges, which are expected to be completed in two and half years, is China Road and Bridge Corp.

The drug rehabilitation centers would have 150 beds each.

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TAGS: Li Keqiang, Maritime Dispute, Philippines-China relations, Rodrigo Duterte, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea, Xi Jinping
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