By Ai Jun
Will Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s upcoming visit from Tuesday to Friday pull the battered Beijing-Manila ties back into the right orbit? While we await the answer, it is at least certain that the meeting between the top leaders is an encouraging sign of their high expectations of a reset to bilateral cooperation.
After Sino-Philippines relations hit rock bottom due to the South China Sea arbitration, former Philippine president Fidel Ramos’ ice-breaking trip to China as well as a series of efforts made by the two nations to realize Duterte’s state visit to China illustrate the good faith from Manila and Beijing to relieve the pain of the maritime disputes and to cool down the tensions between them.
Nothing better captures Duterte’s anticipation and reasons to visit China after assuming office than his remarks in a recent interview with Chinese media outlet ifeng, during which he thanked Beijing for not interfering in how he is running the country and fighting his crusade against drugs. He expressed his desire to introduce techniques and know-how in many fields and to attract more trade and investment from China.
Beijing’s support is for the moment of great importance to Duterte in the face of worldwide condemnation against his heavy-handed anti-drug campaign and the country’s sluggish economy. China was also the Philippines’ second-largest trade partner in 2015. So far, an urgent task for Duterte is developing the economy and improving his people’s livelihoods. An enhanced relationship will boost economic collaboration between the two and help realize common development. Furthermore, given the poor state of infrastructure in the Philippines, Manila badly needs foreign investment, and China has not only capital, but also the technology for appropriate projects.
In addition, Manila eagerly hopes not to disrupt its fishermen’s livelihood because of the tensions between China and the Philippines. Sovereignty disputes can’t be solved once and for all during a short visit. The issue requires long-term efforts and wisdom. However, the meeting is bound to become a crucial opportunity for the two sides to set aside the territorial disputes and talk about how to jointly develop the waters. There will be progress in bilateral ties as long as cooperative topics such as fisheries can be discussed.
The significance of Duterte’s visit will depend on whether any specific deals will be inked in the days to come. Divisions will remain, but some specific issues will be worked out. The divergences between Beijing and Manila cannot be solved in a single high-level visit. Nevertheless, the meeting itself mirrors their goodwill for better ties. As long as there are agreements between the two sides, big or small, they might bring about a turning point in Sino-Philippine relations.
Concrete steps will help Beijing, Manila overcome sea spat
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