Xi, Duterte mend fences

By Yang Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/21 0:13:40

China offers $9 billion in loans: reports

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte shake hands after a signing ceremony in Beijing on Thursday. Photo: AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte shake hands after a signing ceremony in Beijing on Thursday. Photo: AFP

Chinese President Xi Jinping urged visiting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to manage the differences in the South China Sea issue through dialogue and consultation, as these form an important foundation for bilateral ties.

The two countries have gone through "twists and turns," but the foundation of China-Philippine friendship and willingness to cooperate remain unchanged, Xi said on Thursday, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Duterte said China is a great country, and the long-lasting friendship between the Philippines and China is unbreakable. He said he appreciates China's achievements, adding that the two countries' development strategies are highly compatible and that there was huge potential for cooperation.

The meeting between the two presidents was seen by many as an about-turn in the deteriorating ties under Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, who sided with the US and Japan to pressure China on sea disputes.

The shift in the ties is dramatic, and one key reason is that the South China Sea issue taught the Philippines a lesson, Xu Liping, an expert on Southeast Asia at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday. 

After Duterte became president, the Philippines realized that its previous policy toward China was damaging its own interests, because the Philippines wasted so much to get a useless ruling from the arbitration court at The Hague, and lost its fishing rights in the Huangyan Islands, Xu said.

"The US provides nothing solid. It just used the Philippines to serve its Asia-Pacific rebalance strategy, but what the Philippines needs is economic development and a society without drugs. The US shows no real support in these areas and even criticized Duterte's campaign against drug dealers, so Duterte believes in changing his country's foreign policy," Xu added.

The Guardian reported that during a speech before the Filipino community in Beijing Wednesday, the firebrand president said the Philippines had gained little from its long alliance with the US, its former colonial ruler. "Your stay in my country was for your own benefit. So time to say goodbye, my friend [the US]."

Before Duterte's visit to China, he told Xinhua on Monday that "only China can help us."

After the meeting on Thursday, Xi and Duterte witnessed the signing of 13 documents on bilateral cooperation, including those for trade, investment, financing, agriculture, tourism, the anti-drug campaign and infrastructure, Xinhua reported. 

Meanwhile, the Presidential Communications Office in Manila said in a statement Thursday that China offered a $9 billion credit line for the Philippines' development projects. The office says about one-third of the money will come from private banks.  The Associated Press reported that around $15 million in loans will be made available for drug rehabilitation programs.

Challenge for Duterte

Duterte yielded a "very good" net satisfaction rating and an approval rating of 76 percent for his first three months in office, according to a recent survey by the Social Weather Stations, an independent survey institute in the Philippines.

However, according to previous reports, Duterte is also facing criticism not only from the US and the UN but also within the Philippines, including from former president Fidel Ramos, who said that Duterte's government was "losing badly" by prioritizing a war on drugs at the expense of issues like poverty, living costs, foreign investment and jobs.

University of International Relations professor Chu Yin told the Global Times on Thursday that compared to other traditional political elites in Manila, who rely heavily on US support, Duterte is very different.

"Aquino's political base is Manila's traditional elites, capitalists and military officers, so there was no surprise that he had chosen to take the US' side against China, but Duterte's base is largely made up of the grassroots who suffered from the illegal drugs trade and poverty, so he definitely needs China to help him improve infrastructure," Chu said.

However, the US' influence in the Philippines runs very deep, and "we can't expect a president to completely change the US-Philippine alliance," Chu said.

Xu said "the CIA has deep connections with many Filipino officials and military officers, and many powerful political families in Manila all put their money in US banks. These people hate Duterte's new foreign policy."

Therefore, if Duterte's approval rate drops below 60 percent, pro-US groups will launch a counter strike, and this is the real threat to Duterte's government, Chu said.

Chu stressed that the anti-drug campaign bolstered Duterte's approval ratings and reinforced his authority in the Philippines, but its effectiveness is temporary. "In order to maintain his popularity, Duterte needs to bring economic development to his people, and China's support is irreplaceable," Xu said.

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