Duterte awaits ‘soft landing’ on first state visit to Beijing

In this Oct. 13, 2016, file photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his address to a Filipino business sector in suburban Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines. Ahead of a visit to China, the Philippine president acknowledged that he can be impeached if he concedes his country's territorial claims in the South China Sea in talks with President Xi Jinping and other leaders. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File)

In this Oct. 13, 2016, file photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte gestures during his address to a Filipino business sector in suburban Pasay city south of Manila, Philippines. Ahead of a visit to China, the Philippine president acknowledged that he can be impeached if he concedes his country’s territorial claims in the South China Sea in talks with President Xi Jinping and other leaders. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File)

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who arrives in Beijing on Tuesday for his first state visit to China, said he agrees with Beijing’s call for peaceful settlement of the South China Sea issue.

Duterte expects a “soft landing” in the dispute over the issue. He will visit China for four days.

“I’ll be there to talk about it softly,” Duterte told China News Service in an interview released on Monday. “We take away war or violence, because that is not a good option.”

Duterte, who took office in July, has been faced with repairing chilly ties with Beijing after the Cabinet of former president Aquino Benigno III unilaterally filed a case to an international tribunal on the South China Sea. China did not recognize the case and it declared it invalid.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Monday that “the door for dialogue is always open”, adding that Beijing had noticed that Duterte repeatedly expressed his willingness to talk.

President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and top legislator Zhang Dejiang will meet individually with Duterte. Hua said the talks “may cover a wide spectrum” and a fruitful visit is expected.

Before leaving Manila, Duterte highlighted economic and trade cooperation. He noted his country’s abundance in tourism, mineral and agricultural resources, and China’s huge, lucrative market.

Xu Liping, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, noted that Duterte has repeatedly demonstrated his goodwill by avoiding inflammatory comments on arbitration.

Beijing has pledged support for Manila’s priorities, including its anti-drug campaign, Xu added.

“The visits will bring tangible outcomes in two-way ties, which will benefit both countries, better stabilize the South China Sea region, and improve people’s economic circumstances and trade,” Xu said.

Zhao Jianhua, Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, told Philippines media on Friday that it is hoped that after Duterte’s visit, investment from China would rise significantly in areas such as infrastructure, railways, highways, seaports and airports.

Zhao also envisioned an increase in Chinese tourists to the Philippines, bringing as much as $1 billion annually to the country.

Duterte touched down in Brunei — the first leg of his trip — on Sunday evening, and he will leave China on Friday to visit Japan. (People’s Daily)

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