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China and Philippines: put territorial disputes aside

October 20, 2016

Chinese President Xi Jinping has praised his Philippines counterpart's "milestone" visit to Beijing, as the two countries agreed to restore diplomatic and defence talks. This follows an escalation in the South China Sea.

China Peking Staatsbesuch Philippinen Xi Jinping Duterte
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/Ng Han Guan

China and the Philippines agreed on Thursday to resume bilateral dialogue on diplomatic and defence issues, including the South China Sea territorial dispute that has hampered relations between the two nations for years.

Chinese vice foreign minister Liu Zhenmin told reporters: "the South China Sea issue is not the sum total of the bilateral relationship." The two countries have agreed to attempt to reach a settlement through talks, marking a return to the approach that was employed five years ago.

Previous dialogue on the issue was abandoned after China seized control of the Scarborough Shoal, a contested reef, prompting the Philippines to seek legal arbitration in the Hague.

The announcement is being cast as a win for Beijing, which refused to abide by a ruling earlier this year in favour of the Philippines' territorial interests in the region.  

Verdict on South China Sea

A 'milestone' meeting

"This truly has milestone significance for China-Philippine relations," Chinese President Xi Jinping remarked of the first meeting between the two leaders since Rodrigo Duterte swept to power in the Philippines on June 30.

The Chinese leader expressed confidence that the state visit by Duterte and some 200 top Filipino business people could help to "fully improve" ties, declaring that China and the Philippines are brothers that could appropriately handle disputes.

Duterte's visit has reinforced a stark foreign policy shift towards China since his election, and in comments on Thursday he further distanced his country from long-time ally the US. Washington has previously criticised Duterte for his hardline stance on drug criminals, including extra-judicial killings.

"Your stay in my country was for your own benefit. So time to say goodbye, my friend," Duterte said. He also repeated his controversial description of US President Barack Obama as a "son of a whore."

In contrast, the Philippines leader claimed China was a "good" nation that "has never invaded a piece of my country in all these generations."

"This is a springtime of our relationship," he said.