Chinese Premier Li Keqiang pays respects to the Chinese and Philippine flags as he reviews troops with President Duterte during a welcome ceremony at Malacañang yesterday. AP

Philippine-China ties as warm as Manila weather – Li
(The Philippine Star) - November 15, 2017 - 4:00pm

South China Sea not discussed

MANILA, Philippines — Relations between the Philippines and China are now as warm as Manila’s weather, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said as he expressed hope there would be no more “winter” to spoil the moment.

Li made the remarks yesterday after meeting with President Duterte at Malacañang, where the two leaders voiced commitment to fight terrorism and respect each other’s sovereignty.

“Winter has come to the Northern Hemisphere but the temperature in Manila is still running pretty high,” Li said.

”I think that somewhat reflects the temperature of Philippine-China relations, which is also going pretty high on the basis of the positive improvement of the relations between the two countries,” he added.

“We hope that we will continue to work together to strengthen this positive momentum and work together for the time that we may have lost,” Li said.

There was no direct mention of the South China Sea issue, which had tainted relations between the two countries, especially during the previous administration.

In their joint statement, Duterte and Li said they were happy about the “positive turnaround and vigorous momentum of Philippines-China relations.”

“Mutual trust and confidence-building have led to increased interaction on many levels of our two governments. Practical cooperation in many areas is bringing in an early harvest of tangible benefits,” Duterte said.

“Altogether, these concerted efforts of the Philippines and China have secured peace, stability and development in the region,” he said.

Interviewed later, Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said Li’s visit was “successful.”

Li’s official visit came a day after the Philippines concluded its hosting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Manila.

Duterte also heaped praise on Li for what he said was China’s “critical” role in expediting the liberation of Marawi City from Islamic State-linked militants.

The Chief Executive credited China for supplying what he said was the rifle that on Oct. 16 killed siege leader Isnilon Hapilon, and said he would present that weapon to China as a mark of appreciation for its help in the war in Marawi.

“I am going to return to you the rifle so that the Chinese people would know it was critical, it is a symbol of the critical help,” Duterte told Li, the first Chinese premier to visit the Philippines in a decade.

There are doubts, however, if it really was a Chinese sniper rifle that killed Hapilon, and uncertainty about whether the military has used any of the 6,100 guns Beijing has donated since June.

Duterte also told Li about China’s “valuable support” for the Philippines’ chairmanship of the ASEAN.

He also also thanked Beijing for its assistance to the Philippines’ Build, Build, Build infrastructure initiatives, including the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Marawi City.

“With pragmatism, mutual respect, sincerity, equality and shared benefit, the friendly relations between our two countries will forge ahead, determined to secure a prosperous future for both our peoples,” he said.

After the reading of their joint statement, Duterte and Li proceeded to the Heroes Hall to attend the ceremonial launching of the Binondo-Intramuros and Estrella Pantaleon Bridges Project, and the Dangerous Drugs Abuse Treatment Rehabilitation Center Project.

Top trade partner

In his remarks at the opening of the bilateral meeting, Li reported that China has become the country’s top trading partner since the start of the year.  

“Since the beginning of this year, we have been heartened by the boom in the practical cooperation between our two countries. After the first 10 months of this year, China has become the Philippines’ top trading partner,” Li added.

China has imported some 13,000 batches of tropical fruits from the Philippines and 14 new flights have been opened between the two countries, the premier added.

“We are expecting that Chinese tourists will make some one million trips to the Philippines by the end of this year. The practical cooperation between us in such areas as infrastructure, agriculture and poverty alleviation has also been going strong,” he said.

Li also commended  the Philippine government for the introduction of its own development strategy called AmBisyon Natin 2040. He bared China’s greater resolve to help the Philippines address security concerns.

“The Chinese side supports the efforts made by Mr. President and the Philippine government in upholding the security and stability of your country,” he said, announcing RMB150 million in grants for the rebuilding and improvement of livelihood in Marawi.

“The Philippines, in terms of upholding national security and fighting terroristic crimes, has played a very important role. China and all the other members of international community firmly support the fight against terrorism in all forms. Your victory against terrorism is the result of your own efforts,” he said.

“We highly appreciate the courage and the wisdom demonstrated by the Philippine government in the fight against terrorism and we also want to provide assistance to the post-war reconstruction in Marawi and also the improvement of the livelihood of the people,” he added.

Li and Duterte also witnessed the signing of 14 agreements, including a P1.15-billion aid to communities affected by the Marawi siege.

The first agreement to be signed was an economic and technical cooperation deal that would provide a RMB150-million (about P1.15-billion or $23-million) grant for the quick recovery and reconstruction efforts in battle-ravaged Marawi.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Chinese International Trade Representative and Vice Minister of Commerce Fu Ziying signed the agreement.

Dominguez also signed a deal for a $307.41-million financing agreement with the Export-Import Bank of China for the construction of the Kaliwa Dam-New Centennial Water Source project and the Chico River Pump Irrigation Facility.

He signed the agreement with Liu Liange, president of the Export-Import Bank of China.

Dominguez and Fu also signed an agreement for the joint identification and study of the projects that would comprise the second batch of flagship projects the Philippines will propose to China.

So far, the Subic-Clark Railway, Davao City Expressway and Panay-Guimaras-Negros Inter-island Bridge projects are being eyed for inclusion in the list, the DOF said.

According to the DOF’s International Finance Group (IFG), the pre-feasibility studies for the Davao City Expressway and Panay-Guimaras-Negros Inter-Island Bridge were already conducted with the help of a grant from the Chinese government.

The IFG said the full feasibility studies for the projects will also be supported by Beijing.

Meanwhile, senators welcomed yesterday the joint declarations of the ASEAN, the European Union (EU) and the US to ensure freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, saying it could help protect the country’s territorial integrity.

“We must defend our territorial integrity. The only way we can counter China is for ASEAN member-countries to be united in dealing with South China Sea issue,” Sen. Joseph Victor Ejercito said in a statement. “China obviously has been bullying us and the smaller ASEAN nations.”

He said the Philippines should continue building up on its victory in the arbitral tribunal in The Hague on its claim over portions of the South China Sea.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian, however, cited the announcement of the start of formal talks between ASEAN and China on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea as “a watershed moment for regional security.”

“This is the first time in 15 years that ASEAN and China have made any real progress toward settling the longstanding disputes in the West Philippine and South China Sea,” Gatchalian said.

He described the expected start of the talks as “a pivotal step toward inking a comprehensive agreement, which will permanently defuse tensions in the disputed areas by creating a lasting framework for the equitable navigation and use of these crucial waters.”  – Mary Grace Padin, Paolo Romero

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