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Envoy: Economics, trade will be key driver of Philippines-China ties

FILE - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony in Beijing, China, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. AP/Ng Han Guan, Pool

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte's new approach in its foreign policy mean that economics and trade would be the key driver of its relations with China, Ambassador-designate to China Jose Santiago "Chito" Sta. Romana said.

The maritime dispute over the South China Sea will still be subject to negotiations but it would not be at the front of bilateral ties.

Despite Duterte's initiative to improve relations with China and Russia, the Philippines will not abandon its treaty alliance with the United States, Sta. Romana said.

"Instead, Manila will mainly focus on promoting political relations and economic partnership with China and Russia while exploring limited military cooperation," Sta. Romana said in an article published by the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation newsletter.

The goal of the administration is to reduce historic dependence on the US and seek a balanced relationship with other major powers such as China and Russia.

Duterte's foreign policy also aims to strengthen ties with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan and other Asian countries, the ambassador said.

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On the other hand, it would be a challenge for the Philippine to convince China that its Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US is not aimed at threatening Beijing.

"Looking into the near future, the prospects for Philippines-China relations will depend on whether the two sides can combine a high level of statesmanship and pragmatism to manage the disputes, lower tensions, and prevent any accident or miscalculation on one hand; and to restore normal ties and promote areas of bilateral cooperation in trade, tourism, infrastructure, investments and other fields on the other," Sta. Romana said.

Sta. Romana also noted that the geopolitical rivalry between China and the US will likely continue unless they find a mutually acceptable way to manage their strategic differences without resorting to military confrontation.

The rivalry between the two super powers complicates the maritime disputes as the Philippines is a treaty ally of the US.

The relationship between China and the US is a mix of cooperation and competition, Sta. Romana said.

"The cooperative and competitive elements in US-China relations elements exist side by side, and though at present, cooperation still seems to be predominant in the bilateral relationship, the competitive elements are increasingly on the rise," the ambassador said.

The Philippines recently sent a note verbale to China following reports that it has installed weapons in its artificial islands in the Spratly Islands.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said that the president will not compromise the country's sovereignty rights despite his move to renew ties with Beijing that has been marred by the sea dispute.

"When you want to renew ties with another country, it does not mean that you're compromising or eroding our rights on certain matters in this particular matter our sovereignty rights over the exclusive economic zone that under UNCLOS is ours," Yasay said in a television interview earlier this week.

RELATED: Yasay: Note verbale sent to China after intel verification

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