DAVAO CITY—The Philippine economy is high on the agenda of the historic visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in November this year, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday.
At the same time, the Philippines’s handling of its claim in the South China Sea territories may provide an example to other claimant nations, Wang added, stressing Beijing’s interest in furthering maritime cooperation and in proposals for joint development of oil and gas in the resource-rich area.
At a joint press briefing with his counterpart, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., Wang said, “A peaceful and stable South China Sea means a shared interest among regional countries and our shared responsibility in the development of the region, and China is ready to work with the other regional countries to be our partners to further consolidate the region.”
Wang said China was ready to tap the Philippines and other regional states in the area of maritime cooperation and environmental protection, “to help in the standing cooperation in research, fishery, and we are ready to discuss with the Philippines about joint development of oil and gas.”
Meanwhile, alluding to his leader’s November journey to Manila, Wang said he would be interested in following the Philippine preparations and how China could help “to ensure that the visit of President Xi would be fully successful” for both countries.
Locsin said Xi’s visit would be the first by a Chinese president in 30 years and only the eighth by a high-ranking Chinese official since diplomatic ties were signed 43 years ago.
Wang’s visit here on Monday, aside from resulting in the signing of three bilateral agreements, also tackled details of economic cooperation agreements expected to be signed during President Xi visit, the Department of Finance said.
Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III, who led the Philippine side during the meeting, described it as a “productive dialogue” that he hoped will help to “continue expanding the mutually beneficial economic, trade and investment cooperation” between the two countries.
“We are preparing for the upcoming historic visit of President Xi and, of course, the economy is a very important field,” Wang said in the opening statement shortly before the signing of the bilateral documents.
In remarks before the start of the meeting, Wang underscored the importance of economic cooperation in strengthening bilateral relations between the Philippines and China and its impact on the well-being of the people of both countries.
Wang cited the significant growth of two-way trade between the Philippines and China, as well as of Chinese investments in the Philippines, which, he said, increased “by more than 500 percent” in the first six months of 2018. Last year, the growth in level of investment was 67 percent.
Before the meeting, Dominguez said that “China, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, is now the Philippines’s biggest trading partner with total trade amounting to $44.8 billion in 2017 and $33.5 billion from January to August this year.”
The DOF said the meeting here focused on the status of the economic cooperation agreements and documents, particularly those covering Chinese funding support for the Duterte administration’s “Build, Build, Build” program. These were expected to be signed at Xi’s state visit in November.
5 accords for Xi visit
The Philippines and China are expected to sign at least five agreements: loan and guarantee accords, economic and technical cooperation, support for the feasibility studies on the Philippines’s infrastructure projects, and promoting cooperation on key Build, Build, Build projects in Mindanao.
Aside from Dominguez, the Philippine side also included Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno, Public Works Secretary Mark A. Villar, and Transportation Secretary Arthur P. Tugade; Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana; Vivencio Dizon, president-CEO of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA); and Assistant Secretary Roderick Planta on behalf of Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto M. Pernia.
The DOF said the Davao dialogue “follows the very successful high-level bilateral meeting between the two countries held last August in Beijing, where both our governments expressed full commitment to our shared goals of implementing the important consensus reached between our leaders, as well as bringing our bilateral relations to a higher level through enhanced cooperation in the areas of infrastructure, trade, investment and people-to-people exchanges.”
Dominguez said that following the August meeting in Beijing, the DOF, National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), BCDA and officials of the Philippine Embassy and Chinese Embassy have set up a technical working group to orient Philippine officials on the organizational structure, procedures and financing terms of the newly formed China International Development Cooperation Agency (Cidca).
The bilateral documents inked after the meeting held at the Marco Polo Hotel here on Monday were:
■ The Exchange of Letters for the Feasibility Study of the Davao River Bridge (Bucana) Project, signed by Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana;
■ The RMB50-million grant for the Supply of Law Enforcement-Related Materials/ Equipment to the Philippines, signed also by Sta. Romana; and
■ The $1-million grant assistance for the victims of Typhoon Vinta in 2017, signed by Defense Undersecretary Ricardo Jalad.
The three documents were all signed by Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua on behalf of China.
Xi, Duterte initiative
In two of only four questions from Filipino and Chinese reporters covering Wang’s visit here, the foreign minister admitted that the conflicting claims in the South China Sea have been a key issue in his previous visits to the Philippines.
However, he said he has noted a sharp difference now in the way Filipinos were looking at the issue, “thanks to the guidance of the Chinese President and President Rodrigo Duterte.”
In a short quip in between his responses and those of Locsin, Wang said that “whether or not [the code of conduct drafted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] is a document signed, that [signatories] must abide and implement.”
“Under the guidance of the President of China and the Philippines, the situation in the South China Sea is improving and the countries are resorting to dialogue to find solutions rather than confrontation. Together with the claimant countries, China is upholding the peace and stability in the South China Sea,” Wang said in a question that wanted to clarify if the code of conduct was legally binding for all state-signatories.
Wang said China and the Philippines had a successful meeting, along with other countries in the Asean, during the recent meeting of heads of Asean held in Bali, Indonesia.
Beijing’s foreign affairs chief said the Philippines, for instance, has broached the idea of joint development on oil and gas. Wang said it “would be good to have joint development without prejudice to the each other’s sovereign claim.”
This way, he said, the Philippines may find a solution to its energy problem. Besides, he added, “it would also provide a practical way for China and the Philippines to rekindle relations and to set an example for China and other countries to do the same.”
“We will work together to improve management of the South China Sea,” he said. He disclosed that the Philippines and China already established a hot line and “they are talking to each other” to address management and to air concerns.
Wang said China was also willing and ready to establish the same communication hot line with other countries.
“We will speed up consultation. China’s position is clear: to speed up consultation and hope to conclude the consultation during the term of the Philippines as the country coordinator of the Asean-China relation to ensure stability in the region,” he said.
With such designation in the Asean, he said the Philippines has placed an important role in promoting dialogue than conflict.
Locsin said that while there has been a turnaround in the Philippine-China relation, the Philippine move was merely “a resumption of our own long friendship, and it should be looked at that way.”
He said that while the Asean code of conduct may not be legally binding for all, “it should be looked at as how people, countries will behave towards each other, for which we honor never with aggression.”
Besides, Locsin said, the South China Sea “is not an exclusive issue between China and the Philippines. It is a hot issue, a burning issue between the Philippine archipelago, the Indonesian archipelago and the littoral states of Southeast Asia.”
“The differences are there, perhaps the differences will go away, perhaps they will be resolved, perhaps they will abide. But there has been no reason why these differences can stand in the way, or should stand between cooperation for their mutual benefit. There is absolutely, no reason,’” he said.