CHINA values ties with the Philippines and is ready to work with it to boost bilateral relations, its Foreign Ministry said on Monday night.
It issued the statement as ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, which praised the tough-talking leader for his “strategic choice” to warm ties with its neighbor.
Mr. Xi “appreciates the strategic choice Mr. Duterte made to improve relations with China during his presidency,” Hua Chunying, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, tweeted.
She said Beijing also acknowledged Mr. Duterte’s “important contributions to friendly exchanges between the two countries.”
Mr. Duterte led a foreign policy pivot to China in exchange for investment pledges, few of which had materialized.
His successor, Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., said he was aware of the president’s meeting with the Chinese leader, adding that Mr. Duterte does not need his permission to meet the Chinese leader.
“I knew that he was going there,” he told reporters in Filipino on Tuesday. “They are friends.”
Mr. Marcos Jr. said he hopes that Mr. Duterte and Mr. Xi discussed recent developments in the South China Sea.
“I hope they talked about the issues that we see now, including the shadowing,” he said, referring to last month’s encounter in which a civilian patrol vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic was tailed and radioed the Chinese Coast guard.
“All of these things that we are seeing now, I hope they discussed it so we can have progress,” Mr. Marcos said in Filipino. “That is what we are after — continued talks. I welcome any new lines of communication. If that is [President Duterte], then good.”
The Philippine leader said he wants Mr. Duterte “to tell us what happened during their conversation and see how that affects us.”
Mr. Marcos is seen restoring — and boosting — the country’s alliance with the US and its allies amid China’s increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea.
In February, Mr. Marcos gave the US access to four more military bases on top of the five existing sites under their 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement — a move that has angered China.
Mr. Duterte, 78, has criticized the military expansion.
“China wants leverage in the Philippines’ redirection of foreign policy,” Chester B. Cabalza, founder of Manila-based International Development and Security Cooperation, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.
“Beijing is using its best card through ex-President Duterte who pivoted to China during his presidency to echo Chinese influence in the Philippines,” he added.
Mr. Cabalza noted that with the Philippines’ improving ties with Washington, “Beijing feels insecure in the strategic competition.”
Earlier this month, the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it spotted at least 48 Chinese fishing vessels near Iroquois Reef, south of gas-rich Recto Bank, and five Chinese Coast Guard and People’s Liberation Army Navy vessels near Sabina Shoal.
These activities prove that China has been aiming to surround the maritime features within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, Mr. Cabalza earlier told BusinessWorld.
He said the presence of Chinese vessels near the Shoal should be viewed with great alarm since it is near the rusted BRP Sierra Madre, which has been serving as an outpost for Philippine troops.
“The worst-case scenario is when the decommissioned vessel sinks,” he said. “China will possibly take this opportunity to invade Sabina Shoal.”
“We had precedence in the past,” Mr. Cabalza said, citing the stand-off between the Philippines and China at Scarborough Shoal in 2012 and the Chinese occupation of Mischief Reef in 1995. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza