MANILA: Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in the Philippines this week with Beijing’s footprint in trade, infrastructure, tourism and telecommunications, a testament to what President Rodrigo Duterte once described as “springtime” in relations.
The welcome for Xi is a dramatic turnaround from his last visit 3 years ago, when then President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino appeared to ignore him during a long walk to an APEC Summit venue, the awkward encounter captured by international TV cameras.
Duterte refused to flaunt the Philippines’ victory against China in a UN-backed arbitration panel when he took over from Aquino in June 2016 as he sought to shift Manila closer to Beijing and away from its traditional ally, Washington.
He reset ties with China during a state visit to Beijing in October 2016 and came home with $24 billion in trade and investment deals. A travel advisory on Chinese nationals and a ban on Philippine banana exports were also lifted.
“We stand ready to stand by the Philippines and will always be your most sincere and trustworthy friend,” Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a visit to Davao City, Duterte’s hometown, last Oct. 29.
Manila’s chief diplomat, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr, described Xi’s visit as a “milestone” and a “continuation of a long and great friendship.”
The Philippines is an “important link” in the Belt and Road initiative, China’s plan to grow trade along ancient Silk Road routes to Europe, Wang said.