South China Sea dispute not up for discussion during Duterte, Xi meet 

President Rodrigo Duterte has met iconic Chinese actor and martial artist Jackie Chan during the president’s recent visit to China. In a series of photos courtesy of Senator Bong Go, Duterte can be seen receiving an autographed book and Panda stuffed toys with a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) seal from the action star, who is also UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador The “Rush Hour” and “Shanghai Noon” star also posed with Duterte and Go, sporting the president’s trademark fist gesture. | Photo courtesy of Senator Bong Go

China ‘sorry’ for Recto Bank incident, 6 agreements signed 

The Philippines and China signed six agreements during the bilateral meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping this week, however, missing was a resolution on the ongoing West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) territorial dispute. 

During the much-anticipated meeting on Thursday, August 29, where Duterte was expected to take a tougher stance on China, he reportedly asserted that the 2016 Hague ruling in favor of the Philippines was “final, binding and not subject to appeal.” 

However, presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that Xi “reiterated his government’s position of not recognizing the arbitral ruling as well as not budging from its position.” 

Instead of discussing the issue, Duterte and Xi instead came to a consensus to form committees that will focus on oil exploration. 

“The goal is to proceed with service contracts that the Philippines has already issued and get the ball rolling,” Manila’s envoy to Beijing Chito Sta. Romana told Bloomberg. 

The envoy suggested that there would be a “moderately good chance” for a definitive deal by November.

The Chinese president called for both countries to “put aside disputes, eliminate external interference” over the disputed area and “make greater strides in the joint development of offshore oil and gas” in the region,” according to a statement from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

China has asserted the “nine-dash line” to mark their rights to the sea, while some parts are also claimed by Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam. The 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling dismissed China’s claims and ruled in favor of the Philippines. 

“Both President Duterte and President Xi agreed that while their variant positions will have to remain, their differences however need not derail nor diminish the amity between the two countries,” Panelo added They agreed “to manage the South China Sea issue, and to continue to dialogue peacefully in resolving the conflict.”

One significant outcome of the visit, however, was the recognition and apology for the June Recto Bank incident during which a Chinese vessel collided with a fishing boat carrying 22 Filipino fishermen, leaving them behind until they were rescued by a Vietnamese boat. 

“The shipowner of the Chinese fishing boat involved, through our association, would like to express his sincere apology to the Filipino fishermen,” read a letter on behalf of the unnamed Chinese shipowner released to the public. 

The Philippine president “expressed appreciation of China’s readiness to provide compensation to our fishermen who almost lost their lives,” Panelo said.

The Philippines and China were able to sign six items during the meeting. 

“To be sure, there have been challenges. Yet we are living up to our commitment to define our ties as a Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation,” Duterte said. “The channels for dialogue fully opened, agreements signed and projects underway, there is a clear path of partnership and convergence.”

The agreements signed were: 

• Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Higher Education Cooperation between the Commission on Higher Education of the Philippines and China’s Ministry of Education;

• MOU on Science and Technology Cooperation between the Department of Science and Technology of the Philippines and China’s Ministry of Science and Technology;

• Cooperative Arrangement between the Bureau of Customs, Department of Finance of the Philippines and China’s General Administration of Customs, as well as the implementation of the Intergovernmental Agreement Regarding Cooperation and Mutual Assistance in Customs Matters;

• Implementation Contract on Project of China-Aid Container Inspection Equipment between the Bureau of Customs of the Philippines and China’s Ministry of Commerce;

• Exchange of Notes on Cooperation Procedure for the Availment and Utilization of Concessional Loan under a Renminbi-denominated Loan Facility between the Department of Finance of the Philippines and China International Development Cooperation Agency; and

• Preferential Buyer’s Credit Loan Agreement of Project Management Consultancy of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) South Long Haul Project between the Department of Finance and Export-Import Bank of China.

The PNR South Long Haul Project, for one, is a 639-kilometer railway project aiming to connect Metro Manila, Calabarzon, and Bicol, and will be funded by a P175.3-billion loan. It will reportedly reduce travel time from Manila to Legazpi City to six hours from 13 hours, and is expected to be completed in 2022.

The signing of the loan agreement was also witnessed by Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III and Export-Import Bank of China Vice President Xie Ping.

According to Malacañang, part of the purpose of Duterte’s China trip is to “fast-track” existing big-ticket Chinese projects in the country.

This marked the president’s fifth trip to China since taking office in 2016, and eighth meeting with Xi. 

Ritchel Mendiola

Ritchel Mendiola is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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