PRESIDENT Duterte opens today his four-day state visit to China, with a delegation that includes hundreds of businessmen, including some of the country’s top tycoons. He hopes to return with billions of dollars in investments and business agreements for the marketing of Philippine bananas, pineapples, and other products.
The visit is taking place only a few weeks after the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague ruled overwhelmingly against China’s claims in the South China Sea, declaring that its nine-dash-line claim to most of the sea has no legal basis and calling on China to respect the traditional fishing rights of Filipinos and other nations in the Scarborough Shoal, known to us as Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc, close to the Zambales coast.
From the beginning, China rejected the court proceedings and when it issued its ruling, China declared it does not recognize it. The President has no intention of raising the Arbitral Court decision in his China visit. But he said he would make an appeal for the Filipino fishermen.
Overshadowing these economic goals of the President’s visit are its political implications in the light of his repeated statements that it is time the Philippines had a more independent foreign policy, one that is not so dependent on the United States. He said the Philippines will be purchasing more of its arms requirements from China and Russia. He has also called for an end to the annual joint exercises between Philippines and American armed forces.
It may be significant to note that former President Fidel V. Ramos is not joining President Duterte’s visit, although he was only recently asked by the President to lead an unofficial goodwill trip to China in the wake of the Hague ruling.
At the end of his China visit on Friday, President Duterte hopes to come home with funding agreements with Chinese banks and private companies for railroads and other projects totaling $3 billion. We foresee a new era in our economic relations with China which, even now, is the biggest importer of Philippine goods.
We expect that the visit will also help President Duterte in forging a more independent foreign policy for the country – hopefully without giving up our close ties with the United States and other countries with which we have had long and close historical ties.