China confirmed on Wednesday that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will visit China next week, as the southeast Asian leader’s relationship with its traditional ally the United States frays.
Under Duterte, Manila’s relations with Washington have come under strain and the recently elected president has opted to put aside years of hostility with China, especially over the disputed South China Sea, to form a new partnership.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, confirming a visit previously flagged in Manila, said Duterte would meet President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on his October 18-21 trip and have a “deep exchange of views” on how to improve ties, cooperation and regional issues.
About 250 Philippine business executives will visit Beijing with Duterte. Filipino executives are eager to talk with Chinese business leaders and government officials about deals in a range of sectors, from rail, and construction to tourism, agribusiness, power and manufacturing, sources told Reuters.
“China looks forward to increasing mutual trust between the two countries, deepening practical cooperation and continuing the tradition of friendship via the visit of President Duterte,” Geng told a daily news briefing.
The two should appropriately handle disputes through talks and promote a strategic, cooperative relationship that is dedicated to peace and development, he added.
“The Philippines is a traditionally friendly neighbour of China. The two peoples have a long history of friendship.”
Elected in June, Duterte’s deadly war of drugs and support for extrajudicial killings have drawn the ire of the US, a former colonial power and traditionally one of the Philippines’ staunchest supporters.
Duterte has responded to that criticism by telling US President Barack Obama to “go to hell” and saying he wants to distance the Philippines’ dependence on the country.
Coinciding with that has been a rapprochement with China, despite the cool relations the two countries have had, dogged in recent years by mistrust over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Duterte said on Tuesday he will also probably visit Russia after a trip to Japan this month.
An arbitration court ruling in the Hague on July 12 that said China had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the South China Sea had threatened to lead to a further deterioration in ties between Manila and Beijing.
But Duterte’s forthcoming trip could prove a turning point, with promises to hold talks with China on the South China Sea dispute and signs of a new and potentially much deeper economic relationship.
Chinese spokesman Geng repeated Beijing’s standard line that China wanted to resolve the dispute via talks with the parties directly involved, including the Philippines.