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Opportunity taken to make fresh start on firmer footing

China Daily | Updated: 2016-10-21 07:09

Opportunity taken to make fresh start on firmer footing

President Xi Jinping holds a welcoming ceremony to greet Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing on Oct 20. [Photo/ Xinhua]

The whiff of sour grapes notwithstanding, everyone who is worried the China-Philippine showdown in and over the South China Sea may trigger a period of turbulence across the Asia-Pacific can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Particularly those who figured Beijing would throw its weight around and bully smaller, weaker neighbors. And those volunteering to arm Manila so it would not get bullied by an "assertive" Beijing.

During a meeting in Beijing with President Xi Jinping, which Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte praised as "historic" and a "milestone", the two leaders agreed to bury the hatchet and pursue the "all-round improvement" of bilateral ties.

No matter what the dramatic turnaround in China-Philippines relations means to concerned third parties-a few have lamented Duterte's "China pivot"-it is a blessing to all who have a stake in peace in the region.

Just weeks back, there was the nervous speculation that the furor over the award by an arbitral tribunal in The Hague might push the two countries toward a dangerous showdown in the South China Sea waters.

While the damaging potential of that controversial award remains, the two countries' leaders clearly believe bilateral ties should not be taken hostage by it.

As Xi stated, as long as both parties care for friendly dialogue and consultation, managing differences, and maneuvering cooperation, the apparent dead knot should not be allowed to get in the way of the repair work.

Such pragmatic wisdom is essential to clearing the diplomatic mess the Benigno Aquino III administration left behind, and rebooting the damaged relationship between the two countries.

Duterte's visit has proved fruitful and rewarding. His anticipations are being fulfilled, from the agreements on specific cooperation projects to the assurances of a broader, long-term partnership.

Disappointing as it will be to some, the relatively low profile the South China Sea is being given during Duterte's visit is an inspiring sign that the limelight is being shifted onto development concerns.

Although some considerate outsiders fear Duterte's alleged "pivot" or "tilt" to Beijing will weaken Manila's bargaining advantages and the United States' pivot to the Asia-Pacific, the Philippine leader obviously knows what he is up to, and where his country's fundamental interests lie.

By defusing the South China Sea tensions and prioritizing development issues, Duterte is showing he is being "pragmatic" and not in the mood for confrontation, echoing his earlier observation that confrontation does not bring prosperity.

Good relations with Beijing will.

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