Malacañang rolled out the red carpet to China President Xi Jinping with several trade agreements expected to be sealed as economic and diplomatic relations continue to expand between Manila and Beijing.
Xi, the first sitting Chinese head of state to visit the Philippines since Hu Jin Tao in 2005, paid respects to the monument of Dr. Jose Rizal at the Rizal Park first before he met President Rodrigo Duterte and several members of the Cabinet at the Palace.
“Today, therefore, is a landmark moment in our shared history. We have turned a new page and we are ready to write a new chapter of openness and cooperation,” Mr. Duterte said in his opening statement before the expanded bilateral meeting with China officials.
“I look forward to fruitful discussions today as we review the progress we have made and chart the course toward a further
enhanced partnership — all in the spirit of friendship, mutual understanding and respect for sovereign equality,” he added.
Mr. Xi, meanwhile, extended his invitation to President Duterte to attend the second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in China next year.
The Chinese leader also said his country treats the Philippines as China’s “win-win partner.”
“Our support will come in many forms from lending our hand to your counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism struggles to helping repair roads and bridges in Marawi and build new infrastructure there,” Mr. Xi said.
China, according to Xi, will also import more goods from the Philippines, including coconut and frozen fruits.
Scholarship grants will also be provided to students from 2019 to 2021 while both countries have agreed to send and accept Filipino English language teachers to work in China.
China will also donate 10,000 tons of rice to augment support to communities devastated by typhoon “Ompong” recently.
Deals presented to both leaders are in the areas of Customs, infrastructure, banking and finance, education, information technology, agriculture and a grant to the continuing rehabilitation efforts in Marawi.
The most notable of the agreements is the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development signed by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin and his counterpart Wang Yi.
The MoU paves the way for the China National Offshore Oil Corp. and Philippine National Oil Co.-Exploration Corp. to carry out petroleum exploration west of the Calamian Islands, an area northwest of Palawan under Service Contract No. 57.
No cause for concern
The joint exploration should not be a cause of alarm as far as national security goes, a top official of the government’s security cluster assured.
“As long as we get the same or better than what we are getting from Shell, which is in Malampaya, why not? We need oil, that’s what the President said. So, I support his stand there,” National Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana told reporters prior to Xi’s arrival in the Palace.
Lorenzana said no political color will be painted on the deal as “sovereignty will not be discussed.”
“Two companies from both sides will go there and explore, that’s it,” he said.
During the ASEAN-China Summit in Singapore last week, the President urged all claimants to the disputed territory in the South China Sea to practice restraint and not resort to “violent confrontations” in resolving the issue.
It was a remark met without any reaction from China’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang.
However, this must not be taken negatively, according to Lorenzana.
“It (China) did not respond to that. I was also there. They (Chinese officials) did not react, they don’t want to talk about it. Maybe for them, it’s not yet time. It’s not the right time. It will depend on the President on when he thinks the right timing is,” the defense chief said.
As regards the reported weather stations China is operating on the Spratly Islands, Lorenzana said they have yet to conduct “visual verification” although he presumes these are “for civilian use.”
Not having the right equipment, according to Lorenzana, hinders government from conducting the needed verification.
“We don’t have the capabilities, we don’t have aircraft like the ones used by the US. The US Navy – they have the Poseidon. But we’re trying to upgrade our equipment,” Lorenzana said.