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Duterte to meet with China's Premier Li in ASEAN week

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang welcomes President Duterte at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing yesterday. STAR/KrisJohn Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte will hold a bilateral meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at an upcoming key regional summit in Manila, according to the Chinese government.

Twenty-one world leaders—along with the United Nations chief—will sit down for discussions this month for the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations Summit. The Philippines is chair of the ASEAN this year.

“During this visit, Premier Li Keqiang will hold talks with President Duterte and meet with other leaders from the Philippine side. Both sides will witness the signing of the cooperation documents in relevant areas,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying said at a press conference Monday.

“Premier Li Keqiang's visit is the first visit of the Chinese Premier to the Philippines since the last visit ten years ago,” Hua added.

READ: China’s premier Li to visit Philippines

The 31st ASEAN Summit—which will be simultaneously held in Manila and Clark, Pampanga from November 11 to 14—is set to be attended by the region’s dialogue partners Australia, Canada, China, the European Union, India, Japan, New Zealand, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

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Aside from Li, Duterte will also have a bilateral meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Ties between Manila and Beijing had soured after Duterte’s predecessor filed, and won, a case in a United Nations-backed tribunal against China’s sweeping claims to over most part of the South China Sea.

The court said in 2016 that China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights by blocking fishing and oil exploration as well as by building reclaimed islands there.

But Duterte sought warmer relations with Beijing in exchange for billion dollars’ worth of Chinese investments while berating and moving away from Washington—Manila’s traditional treaty ally and China’s strategic rival.

READ: Duterte finds no urgency in South China Sea row | Duterte may push for resource-sharing in disputed sea at ASEAN meet

“China and the Philippines are traditional friendly neighbors. Since the improvement of bilateral relations last year, the political mutual trust between the two countries has been deepened,” Hua, meanwhile, said in the same news briefing.

“The bilateral cooperation has been in full swing, the maritime dialogue and cooperation have been resumed and the China-Philippines relations have been moving forward for the better,” she added.

The Philippines last April hosted the 30th ASEAN summit, which was highlighted by a watered-down communique that evaded allusions to China’s maritime encroachment in the South China Sea.

China is sensitive to even a veiled reference by ASEAN to its island-building activities.

Analysts earlier expressed disappointment over ASEAN’s apparent soft stance on China’s aggressive activities in the sea—with some saying this response could embolden Beijing to step up its incursion in the area, thereby undermining the bloc's centrality.

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