Duterte touts ‘win-win cooperation' with China amid West Philippine Sea policy criticism

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com
Duterte touts âwin-win cooperation' with China amid West Philippine Sea policy criticism
President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping are seen waiving in this undated file photo
Ted Aljibe / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday celebrated the country's "win-win" relationship with China as one that will lead to "greater peace, progress, and prosperity," even as the regional power flouts protests from Manila and continues to deploy its ships to the West Philippine Sea. 

In a forum hosted by the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. to mark the 46th anniversary of formal diplomatic ties between the two countries, Duterte lauded the "deep and abiding friendship between the Filipino and Chinese peoples."  

"It is a bond that predates by centuries the formal establishment of diplomatic relations 46 years ago," he said in a video message. 

"As we approach the 50th anniversary of Philippines-China ties, win-win cooperation will ensure that our relations remain a partnership for greater peace, progress, and prosperity."  

The president was echoing words used in a letter to him from his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping who marked the same anniversary by saying he was ready to work with Duterte "to achieve greater win-win results and mutual benefits." 

Manila continues to protest Beijing's incursions in the West Philippine Sea 

This mutual celebration of deep ties and "win-win results," however, comes less than two weeks after the Philippines filed a diplomatic protest over China's "incessant deployment" of ships to Pag-Asa (Thitu) Island — the latest in a slew of Manila's official objections to Beijing's incursions in the West Philippine Sea. 

China does not recognize the arbitral ruling that invalidated its extensive nine-dash claim over the South China Sea and continues to send fishermen, coast guard ships and maritime militia ships to the West Philippine Sea which is the portion of the critical waterway within the Philippine exclusive economic zone. 

Duterte has fielded growing criticism in recent months over what lawmakers, stakeholders, and experts have called his defeatist attitude on the issue and his deriding of the Philippines' arbitral win as "just a piece of paper" that he will throw away. 

READ: Duterte plays down arbitral ruling, stresses 'best' ties with ChinaDuterte: This is not the time to send 'gray ships' to West Philippine Sea

He is also embroiled in a public squabble with his ally Sen. Manny Pacquiao, in part because the latter last month said he found Duterte's policy on the West Philippine Sea lacking. 

Tensions over the West Philippine Sea flared anew earlier this year when some 220 Chinese ships were spotted swarming Julian Felipe Reef, triggering uncharacteristically heated exchanges between top officials from Manila and Beijing.

Duterte shortly after barred his Cabinet members, save for his spokesman Harry Roque and Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., from publicly commenting on the dispute with China. 

The ships have since dispersed from Julian Felipe Reef but reports from the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea and US-based geospatial imagery and data analysis company Simularity say they moved to other areas within the Philippines' EEZ. 

After campaigning on taking a strong stance against China in the West Philippine Sea, the president early into his term said he would "set aside" Manila's arbitral win to pursue closer ties with Beijing. A few years later, Duterte announced that he entered into an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping allowing China to trawl in Philippine waters.

The Philippines' latest protest "against the incessant deployment, prolonged presence, and illegal activities of Chinese maritime assets and fishing vessels in the vicinity of the Pag-asa islands," came just a week after bilateral talks between the two countries over the South China Sea resumed. — with reports from Patricia Lourdes Viray 





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