China welcomes Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to visit China and hopes that he can make his visit to China at an early date, China's foreign ministry spokesperson said on Friday.
Lu Kang, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Global Times during the daily briefing on Friday that the two sides are in close communication on a visit, in response to Duterte's proposed trips to Japan and China at the end of October.
When answering the significance of a leaders' meeting for China, given huge differences between China and the Philippines on the South China Sea issue, Lu said, "It is only normal for any two countries to have differences on one thing or another."
"Huge differences or not, as long as China and the Philippines maintain the political willingness to resolve problems, there will be no insurmountable obstacles in the development of bilateral relations," Lu remarked.
Diplomats in the Philippines are in talks with counterparts in Japan and China to arrange Duterte's visits at the end of next month, officials in Manila were quoted by Reuters as saying on Friday, adding that the dates were still being worked out for the proposed trips.
A Japanese foreign ministry official confirmed plans were being made.
Duterte has repeatedly said conflict was pointless and he wants to get along and do business with China.
A source in Duterte's office said it was possible former president Fidel Ramos, his new China envoy, could visit as early as next week to lay the groundwork for talks.
Since Manila hopes to maintain a certain balance in the South China Sea currently, Duterte's proposed visit aims to bring Sino-Philippine ties back on track, Zhu Feng, director of the Collaborative Innovation Center of South China Sea Studies under Nanjing University, told the Global Times on Friday.
"His purpose to ensure the fishing rights of the Filipinos in the negotiations with China is discussable … Duterte should try to surmount the ruling on the South China Sea in July and bring back the positive attitude held in 2005 during the administration of former Philippine president Gloria Arroyo," Zhu said.
China firmly rejected the award of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, claiming the ruling is both "null and void" with no binding force.
The Philippines is attempting to prioritize domestic development, which serves as a major issue in seeking cooperation with China, Zhu said.
During a speech on Thursday, Duterte said he would go to China this year and, without elaborating, told Chinese businessmen, that "You will see me often," Reuters reported.
One of his careful considerations during the administration is how the Philippines, a member of China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, can benefited more from the Belt and Road initiative and connectivity projects under the Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, Zhu explained.
The initiative, also known as the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, is aimed at reviving the ancient trade routes that span Asia, Africa and Europe. It has been hailed by Chinese President Xi Jinping as making steady progress, the Xinhua News Agency reported in November 2015.
In addition, Duterte hopes to seek support from China in combating drug trafficking and establishing his authority in his country, Zhou Fang-
yin, a professor at the Guangdong Research Institute for International Strategies, told the Global Times on Friday.
In spite of his intention to improve Sino-Philippine ties, experts noted the balance Duterte attempts to seek among the world powers.
"No matter whether he visits Japan or China first, he is definitely balancing benefits that can be obtained from the two countries," Zhou said.
Recently Duterte told visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida that he is willing to develop security cooperation with Japan, according to Reuters.
But soon after that, he said "We maintain a good relations with everybody. China does not come in second. They are all first to us."