China’s Xi Seeks Deeper Ties With Philippines Under Duterte

  • Chinese president seeks to put bilateral ties back on track
  • Duterte has adopted more conciliatory tone on sea dispute

China's President Xi Jinping.

Photographer: Pool/Getty Images

China wants to deepen relations with the Philippines under incoming President Rodrigo Duterte, Chinese President Xi Jinping said, as he sought to revive bilateral ties strained by rising tensions over conflicting claims in the South China Sea.

“A friendly, stable and sound China-Philippines relationship is in the fundamental interests of the two countries and their people,” Xi said in a congratulatory message to Duterte Monday after his victory in the May 9 election was officially confirmed. “We hope the two sides can work together to bring bilateral relations back on a healthy track.”

Since the election, Duterte has adopted a more conciliatory tone on the sea dispute than President Benigno Aquino, who brought China before an international arbitration tribunal over its claims to 80 percent of one of the world’s most strategic waterways. Aquino also strengthened the Philippine alliance with the U.S. to try to check China’s expansion in the South China Sea, where it’s built a series of artificial islands, creating a platform to assert its claims.

Filipino fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal have been plying their trade without being harassed by the Chinese coast guard for weeks now, Philippine authorities have said, in what could be an early sign of thawing tensions. That’s a far cry from when the shoal, which China seized from the Philippines in 2012, was virtually off-limits to local fishermen.

Maintaining and strengthening Sino-Philippine friendship is a shared responsibility between the leaders of both countries, said the statement, which was published on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Duterte will take the oath of office on June 30.

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