Chinese leader Xi Jinping has urged former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to continue promoting relations between their countries amid the Philippines’ growing ties with the United States.
Mr. Duterte, whose six-year presidential term ended in June 2022, made a surprise visit to Beijing on July 17 for talks with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader. The Philippine Foreign Affairs Department said it was unaware of the visit.
The CCP leader said that Mr. Duterte had “resolutely made a strategic choice to improve relations with China” and had put their bilateral ties on “the right track” during his administration, according to China’s foreign affairs ministry.
“The development of the two countries is rooted in a good-neighborly and friendly surrounding environment and rooted in the Asian family of win-win cooperation,” Mr. Xi told his former Philippine counterpart.
“I hope you will continue to play an important role in the friendly cooperation between the two countries,” he added, emphasizing the significance China placed on its relations with the Philippines.
In response, Mr. Duterte vowed to persist in his efforts to promote “friendship” between the two countries, saying that the commitment aligns with the wishes of the majority of the Filipino people.
Mr. Duterte adopted a pro-China stance and suspended joint maritime patrols with the United States in the South China Sea when he took office in 2016, despite an arbitral tribunal ruling in favor of the Philippines’ legal claim in the disputed waters.
He threatened to terminate a military pact with the United States in 2020 but later retracted his remarks. In 2021, Mr. Duterte announced he would retire from politics and will not run for the elections.
His successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who came into power last year, has been keen to deepen defense relations with the United States, recognizing the country as the Philippines’ sole treaty ally in the Indo-Pacific.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and U.S. President Joe Biden walk up the West Wing colonnade on their way to the Oval Office at the White House in Washington on May 1, 2023. (Leah Millis/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)
The two nations are allies under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, which dictates that the United States and the Philippines will defend each other if either is attacked.
Commenting on Mr. Duterte’s visit to Beijing, Mr. Marcos said he anticipated the visit and regarded Mr. Duterte’s meeting with the CCP leader as an interaction “between friends.”
“They are friends, they know each other,” he told reporters on Tuesday, The Manila Times reported. “I am sure that he will be able to tell us what happened during their conversation and see how that affects us.”
Mr. Marcos said he welcomed “any new lines of communication” between the two countries and hoped that Mr. Duterte would use the meeting to address the recent incursions by Chinese ships in the South China Sea.
“All of these things that we are seeing now, I hope they were able to talk about it so we could achieve progress. Because that’s what we are after, for talks to continue,” the Philippine leader added.
The meeting occurred as Beijing was accused of violating the Philippines’ territorial zone in the disputed South China Sea, which China claims almost entirely based on its nine-dash line.
The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said that its vessels—BRP Malabrigo and BRP Malapascua—were “followed, harassed, and obstructed” by two Chinese coast guard ships while they were assisting a naval operation in the Ayungin Shoal on June 30.
In April, more than 100 Chinese maritime militia vessels, a People’s Liberation Army Navy corvette class, and two Chinese coast guard vessels were spotted sailing around Philippine-controlled areas for days.
The CCP’s assertiveness in the South China Sea has prompted the Philippines to bolster its military presence and seek stronger defense relations with the United States.
On May 3, the Philippines and the United States established the Bilateral Defense Guidelines, which outlined their mutual agreement to enhance military coordination and interoperability, including by “striving toward real-time information sharing.”
“The guidelines reaffirm that an armed attack in the Pacific, including anywhere in the South China Sea, on either of their public vessels, aircraft, or armed forces—which includes their Coast Guards—would invoke mutual defense commitments under Articles IV and V of the 1951 U.S.-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty,” the guidelines (pdf) say.