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Duterte visit signals constructive road ahead

By AN BAIJIE/ZHANG YUNBI | China Daily | Updated: 2016-10-22 07:12

Clouds over South China Sea begin to dissipate as Beijing welcomes new Philippine president

China and the Philippines agreed to address disputes in the South China Sea peacefully and with the sovereign states that are directly involved, according to a joint statement released on Friday during a state visit to Beijing by the island nation's President Rodrigo Duterte.

The statement highlighted "the importance of handling the disputes in the South China Sea in an appropriate manner".

"Both sides also reaffirm the importance of ... addressing their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force, through friendly consultations and negotiations by sovereign states directly concerned," the statement said.

It also said that the two countries "agree to continue discussions on confidence-building measures to increase mutual trust and confidence".

"In addition to and without prejudice to other mechanisms, a bilateral consultation mechanism can be useful", with regular meetings on matters of concern to either side on the South China Sea, the statement said.

Duterte's China trip, from Tuesday to Friday, was his first official visit to a foreign country outside ASEAN.

The visit took place against a backdrop of deteriorating China-Philippines relations resulting from the pursuit of an arbitration case against China on the South China Sea initiated by Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.

Jia Duqiang, an expert on Southeast Asia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said he is "optimistic with prudence" about the reversal in relations that took place during Duterte's visit.

"Beijing should continue tackling the South China Sea disputes with great caution in diplomacy, embark on more effective communication and keep the consensus on seeking consensus," Jia said.

Duterte "temporarily put aside the arbitration and lowered its profile, which does not mean putting an end to the issue", Jia added.

Despite the rains clouding Beijing throughout the final day of his visit, Duterte's enthusiasm didn't cool. He used the day to seek more investment opportunities for his country.

Before leaving on Friday evening, he led his key cabinet members to a gathering of owners of small and medium-size enterprises from both countries, and visited the global headquarters of Bank of China.

At the bank, Duterte witnessed the signing of bilateral agreements on trade and investment.

Bernadette Romulo Puyat, undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture in the Philippines, said she is happy about potential rise of banana and pineapple exports to China.

"We wish that we could learn from your good experiences, so we can become as developed as China as right now," she said.

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