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Xi, Duterte hail 'springtime' of ties

By AN BAIJIE | China Daily | Updated: 2016-10-21 01:58

Beijing, Manila agree to handle maritime disputes properly, in what expert calls a 'welcome U-turn'

Xi, Duterte hail 'springtime' of ties

President Xi Jinping holds a welcoming ceremony to greet Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing on Thursday. Xie Huanchi / Xinhua

China and the Philippines agreed on Thursday to properly handle their maritime disputes and restore the bilateral ties soured by the South China Sea dispute.

The development is a "welcome U-turn" in the bilateral ties, said Jia Duqiang, a senior researcher of Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Rodrigo Duterte's first visit to China as Philippine president also saw the two countries sign 13 deals, worth more than $13.5 billion, on finance, anti-drug efforts, production cooperation and tourism, said Ramon Lopez, the Philippine trade and industry secretary.

President Xi Jinping, after a grandiose welcoming ceremony for his counterpart, described his handshake with Duterte as "warm and firm", even though the bilateral ties recently underwent some "winds and rains".

China is the first country outside the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region that Duterte has visited since he took office in June.

The visit took place amid a backdrop of bilateral ties that had suffered due to the unilateral filing of the South China Sea arbitration case against China by Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.

Xi called on the two countries to handle disputes properly on the South China Sea issue, to set aside the disagreements, and to focus more on cooperation. China and the Philippines have a history of generations of friendship, and there are no excuses for hostility and confrontation, he said.

Xi, who called the visit a milestone for bilateral ties, said the two countries remain friendly neighbors.

Duterte expressed gratitude for China's support for the economic development of the Philippines.

"This is the springtime of our relationship," he told Xi, adding that the two countries should enhance cooperation in areas including trade, investment, agriculture, manufacturing, infrastructure and tourism, as well as in efforts to combat drugs and terrorism.

Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin said the visit means a new page has been turned in the relationship between the two countries in addressing the South China Sea issue through bilateral consultations.

China will provide financial support for infrastructure construction in the Philippines, Liu said, and will take part in the construction.

According to Liu, Xi has announced that China will lift the travel advisories issued two years ago for Chinese people traveling to the Philippines, adding that this will encourage more Chinese to visit the Southeast Asian country.

China has also resumed permits to 27 Philippine companies that export tropical fruit, including mangoes, to the country, he added.

Jia Duqiang, the researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Duterte's visit is a "turning point" for China-Philippines ties.

"Unlike his predecessor Benigno Aquino III, who relied much on the United States, Duterte has taken an independent approach in diplomatic policies," he said.

Jia expressed cautious optimism regarding China-Philippines ties because "setting aside the arbitration case temporarily does not mean the resolution of disputes for good".

Song Junying, a researcher of Asia and Pacific studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said that as a pragmatic political figure, Duterte aims to speed up the country's economic development to bring real benefits for his people.

Aid from China will be crucial for Duterte to improve the country's infrastructure, he said.

Zhang Yaozhong contributed to this story.

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