The who, what, when, where and why of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s trip to China

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 October, 2016, 7:01am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 7:36pm

As Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte embarks on his four-day visit to China on Tuesday, all eyes are on whether the two countries can seize the opportunity to mend ties strained by competing claims in the resource-rich South China Sea.

Sino-Philippine relations hit rock bottom after the government led by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, took China to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague over their territorial dispute.

Watch: Chinese community in the Philippines has high hopes for Duterte’s China visit

The tribunal dismissed much of China’s sweeping claims to the waters but Beijing has refused to recognise the ruling.

Duterte talked tough in his campaign for president, claiming that he would personally drive a jet ski to the disputed Spratly Islands to plant the Philippine flag. But since his inauguration in June, Duterte has extended the hand of friendship to China, the Philippines’ biggest neighbour and second-largest trading partner.

Here are some key points about Duterte’s visit, the first by a Philippine president to Beijing since 2011.

What will Duterte do in Beijing?

Duterte will hold talks with President Xi Jinping on Thursday to discuss “improving bilateral ties, deepening cooperation and international and regional issues of common concern”, according to China’s foreign ministry.

The two presidents were also expected “to witness the signing of a number of memoranda of understanding and agreements on various fields of cooperation between the two countries”, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said.

Duterte has said that he will use the trip to look for ways to strengthen cooperation, particularly in trade and investment.

He is also expected to meet Premier Li Keqiang and National People’s Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang.

Duterte will also visit drug rehabilitation centres and law enforcement agencies, according to Manila.

Talks better than war in South China Sea, Duterte says


Will the South China Sea be on the agenda?

Duterte said on Sunday that he would bring up the South China Sea row during his visit to China.

“We will stick to our claim. We do not bargain anything there,” he said.

“We continue to insist what is ours, and the tribunal’s international decision will be taken up. But there will be no hard impositions. We will talk and we will, maybe, paraphrase everything in the judgment and set the limits of our territories – the special economic zones,” he said.

But a day later, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Duterte’s trip was not the right time to discuss the dispute.

Yasay said Duterte’s trip would instead focus on building trust and increasing confidence between the two nations.

Who will be with Duterte in Beijing?

Duterte will be accompanied by up to 400 business leaders, including some of the Philippines’ wealthiest tycoons, such as San Miguel president Ramon Ang; JG Summit president Lance Gokongwei; and Enrique Razon, chairman of gaming company Bloomberry Resorts and global port operator International Container Terminal Services. Hans Sy, son of the Philippines’ richest man Henry Sy who controls SM Investments; and liquor and tobacco magnate Lucio Tan, who also owns Philippine Airlines, will also make the trip.

Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa – the enforcer of Duterte’s deadly crackdown on illegal drugs – is also part of the delegation.

Playing the US against China may prove a smart move for Rodrigo Duterte


What does Duterte expect to achieve from the visit?

Duterte reportedly hopes the visit will strengthen ties between the two countries.

“With this visit by President Duterte, the Philippines hopes to strengthen the bilateral ties between the Philippines and China through mutual respect and sincere cooperation for the prosperity and benefit of both countries and their peoples,” Philippine foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose said.

Duterte also wants to expand defence cooperation with China, which could be a new source of weapons for Manila.

What does China expect to get out of the visit?

“China hopes the visit will help the two nations strengthen political trust, deepen cooperation, continue friendship, properly handle disputes, and put bilateral relations back on the right track of sound and stable development,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.

Warmer ties with the Philippines might also provide opportunities for the Chinese economy, particularly the newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that Beijing has backed as an alternative to the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other global financial institutions. Chinese companies would move aggressively to snap up any major infrastructure projects that become available, especially road and rail construction.

‘No bargaining’: Philippines’ Duterte says will raise South China Sea issue with Beijing, vows not to deviate from Hague ruling

What has Duterte said about the visit?

Duterte has said that the visit “signals a key turning point” in the two nations’ histories.

He said he looked forward to exchanging views with China’s leaders to further improve bilateral relations.

“I will look forward to renewing the ties of friendship between the Philippines and China and to reaffirm the commitment to work closer to achieve shared goals for our countries and peoples,” he said.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg and Associated Press