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Duterte extols ‘special ties’ with China

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte sought stronger ties with China on the 45th anniversary of the two countries’ diplomatic relations on Tuesday and said that threats like the COVID-19 pandemic could push the partnership to “take on even greater significance.”

In a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping, a copy of which the Chinese Embassy in Manila posted on its Twitter account, Duterte said: “As the entire world continues to face challenges to security and stability and the rule of law, and with the rise of nontraditional and emerging threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic, further strengthening Philippines-China partnership takes on even greater significance.”

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He added: “We must forge on and ensure that the potential of our special ties is fully realized.”

‘Valued friend’

Mr. Duterte described China as a “valued friend” and assured Xi of his “firm commitment to preserve and build on the gains of our close partnership for greater peace, progress, and prosperity for our nations.”

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The President has established close ties with Beijing since coming into power in 2016 and has been accused of being soft on China when it comes to conflicting claims over the South China Sea.

China has conducted reclamation activities and continues to put up military facilities in the West Philippine Sea, the portion of the South China Sea being claimed by the Philippines.

On Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in the disputed Spratlys, defense officials and journalists received the greetings “Welcome to China!’’ and “Welcome to Vietnam!’’ on their mobile phones shortly after they landed for the inauguration of the island’s beaching ramp early this week.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, however, downplayed the security implications of the greeting and attributed it to the “strong cell signals” of the two countries.

Pag-asa is part of the municipality of Kalayaan, which is under the Palawan provincial government.

Smart Communications spokesperson Ramon Isberto said Smart subscribers on Pag-asa received signals from mobile operators in Vietnam and China, which are Smart’s roaming partners, and that the greeting came from the latter.

‘Design of atrocity’

Also on Tuesday, former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario reminded Filipinos that a year ago to the day, a Chinese trawler later identified as the Yuemaobinyu 42212 from Guangdong province, intentionally rammed and sunk the Gem-Ver 1 fishing boat and abandoned its 22 Filipino crew in the open sea.

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“This terrible incident should not be forgotten in our national memory, as it is a tangible fragment of China’s bigger design of atrocity to control the entire South China Sea, which began since the 1940s,” Del Rosario said.

“The act of remembering is crucial in order for us to stand up for our rights in the face of persistent bullying and injustice,” added the former diplomat who spearheaded the successful legal challenge to China’s expansive territorial claims that led to the landmark arbitral ruling favoring the Philippines.

Del Rosario said China should be made to pay for the massive destruction of coal reefs and marine life with its construction of artificial islands in Philippine territory.

“Philippine authorities had the right to seize assets and properties owned by Chinese State in the Philippines to satisfy China’s debt to the Filipino people,” starting with its interests in the National Grid of the Philippines and China Telecom.

—With a ‍report from Dona Z. Pazzibugan

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TAGS: Delfin Lorenzana, maritime dispute, PH-China Relations, Rodrigo Duterte, West Philippine Sea
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