PRESIDENT Duterte is now in Beijing for the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation to affirm the country’s commitment to further enhance regional connectivity and economic integration.
President Duterte is also scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday prior to the forum to talk about key developments in bilateral relations and regional affairs, including issues surrounding West Philippine Sea.
The President will also meet with Filipino and Chinese business leaders to explore ways to further enhance two-way trade and investments also before the forum.
Upon the invitation of Chinese President Xi, the President will then be attending the forum, together with over 35 leaders and heads of international organizations, to discuss, among others, how to boost connectivity, further strengthen policy synergy and build closer partnerships and promote greener and sustainable development.
The forum, which runs until April 27, is also an “opportunity for the Philippines to explore synergies on connectivity” initiatives, such as projects under the Belt and Road Initiative and the country’s “Build, Build, Build” program, as well as other development programs.
West Philippine Sea
MEANWHILE, maritime law expert Prof. Jay Batongbacal said it is “probably better to keep expectations low” on the Duterte-Xi side meeting even though there is a possibility that the two leaders will take up the situation in the West Philippine Sea.
“So far, China has always insisted on its own position and has given very little concession to the Philippine position. I don’t expect any difference this time around. There will probably be little relief in the situation, especially since President Duterte has always presented the Philippines to be in the weak position vis-à-vis China,” Batongbacal said in a message to the BusinessMirror.
Duterte’s meeting with the Chinese leader comes days after the Philippine government issued strong statements against China’s actions in the disputed waters, including the presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, particularly around Pag-Asa Island, among others.
The Department of Foreign Affairs has also since said it had fired off a salvo of protests against these recent developments in the West Philippine Sea.
However, De La Salle Political Science Prof. Francisco Magno said the President’s meeting with Xi is more than just an economic front.
“Against the backdrop of polls indicating that Filipinos continue to distrust China, the President needs to show that the country’s constructive engagement with China is reaping win-win results. This is not limited to the economic front, in terms of forging more investment and trade deals, but also in stemming the tide of further Chinese incursions in Philippine waters,” Magno said.
While Magno is “optimistic” that the President will raise the issue on the West Philippine Sea, he does not expect China to respond positively.
“We don’t expect China to react favorably, but it will be a good step for Philippine diplomacy. After all, China is making moves to recalibrate its Belt and Road Initiative after facing criticisms on its opaque financing practices. It is not immune to international pressures,” he added.
Nonetheless, Magno still considers the President’s participation in the Belt and Road Forum a good move.
“Yes. China, together with Japan and the United States, are our top 3 trading partners,” he said.