Duterte Meets Xi in Beijing, Watches Basketball in Guangzhou

  • President Duterte will watch as Team Pilipinas plays its first group stage match of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Guangzhou.
  • An "Association" in China presented a letter of apology from a Chinese shipowner to the Philippine side, apologizing for a Chinese fishing boat hitting a Philippine fishing boat in Nanhai on the South China Sea two months ago.
  • Duterte has been criticized by opposition officials in the Philippines for fear that Duterte will be too soft on China.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has launched his fifth visit to China on Wednesday. In addition to the South China Sea issue, he is also believed to discuss trade, investment, and infrastructure projects with China. After meeting with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing, Duterte will fly to Guangzhou with Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan to watch a basketball game.

Chinese media reported that on Thursday, the Philippine national men’s basketball team flew to Guangzhou, China, to participate in their first 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup group match. The Philippine men’s basketball team will face Italy on the evening of the 31st, when Duterte will personally cheer for Team Pilipinas in Guangzhou.

Rodrigo Roa Duterte, also known as Digong and Rody, is the 16th and current President of the Philippines. At 71, Duterte became the oldest person to hold the office. Pursuing closer relations with China and Russia— and away from the United States and Europe— has been a major foreign policy goal.

Just before Duterte arrived in Beijing to start a visit, an “Association” in China presented a letter of apology from a Chinese shipowner to the Philippine side, apologizing for a Chinese fishing boat hitting a Philippine fishing boat in Nanhai on the South China Sea two months ago. The letter said that the Chinese fishing boat owner wished to “express his sincere apology to the Filipino fishermen.”

The South China Morning Post quoted Clarita Carlos, a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines,  saying that Chinese fishing boat owners had an apology aimed at quelling public opinion dissatisfaction in the Philippines and creating a good atmosphere for Duterte’s talks with Xi Jinping on Thursday.

The report said that Chinese ships had collided with the same Filipino fishing boat in Ritual Beach. It is said that Chinese ships left the scene of the collision and did not rescue the Philippine fishermen who fell into the water. Filipino fishermen were later rescued by Vietnamese ships.

The collision incident caused public condemnation in the Philippines. President Duterte was under pressure to express his tough stance during his five-day visit to China, referring to China’s reference to the 2016 Hague International Arbitration Tribunal in the South China Sea.

Duterte has been criticized by opposition officials in the Philippines for fear that Duterte will be too soft on China. Philippine Vice President Lenny Robredo said earlier this month that she is worried that the Philippines’ concession in the South China Sea will allow China to acquire more territory.

The Philippine Star reported on Tuesday that the balance of power between China and the Philippines is biased toward the Chinese side. Every time there is a dispute between China and the Philippines, they reported, the Philippines can only passively accept it, and Duterte will speak for the Philippines.

However, Professor Carlos believes that the apology from Chinese shipowners expressed a friendly gesture. Carlos said that China rarely publicly apologizes on maritime issues and is willing to make compensation, so this may indicate a change in China’s strategy.

South China Sea Code of Conduct

The South China Sea disputes involve both island and maritime claims among several sovereign states within the region, namely Brunei, China (PRC), Taiwan (ROC), Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam.

According to Carlos, Duterte’s talks with Xi Jinping in Beijing may promote the signing of the South China Sea Code of Conduct.

Also, Carlos said that China will not change its opposition to the Hainan Arbitration Tribunal’s ruling on the South China Sea, but it will lead to an accelerated signing of the binding South China Sea Code of Conduct. Carlos believes that this will not only satisfy the Philippines, but the ASEAN countries will also be satisfied.

Carlos believes that Duterte’s reference to the Hainan International Arbitration Court’s ruling on the South China Sea dispute in Beijing will add points to public opinion.

In July 2016, the South China Sea Arbitration Court announced its decision in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands, denying China’s insistence on the sovereignty of the South China Sea.

China immediately issued a condemnation after the ruling, arguing that the arbitration result was “illegal, invalid”, “not accepted,” and “not recognized.”

In addition to mentioning the South China Sea dispute in Beijing, Duterte will also discuss the issue of jointly developing oil and gas resources in the western Philippines. According to reports, he will also mention the frequent occurrence of Chinese warships in the Philippine waters.

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Benedict Kasigara

I have been working as a freelance editor/writer since 2006. My specialist subject is film and television having worked for over 10 years from 2005 during which time I was the editor of the BFI Film and Television.

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