China-Philippine relations ‘never been better’, says ex-president Gloria Arroyo
- All-round cooperation over past two years ‘perhaps as good as it has ever been’, former leader says
- Comments come a day after nations sign 29 deals, including one to cooperate on oil and gas development in South China Sea
Relations between China and the Philippines might never have been better, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, the former president of the Southeast Asian country, said on Wednesday, reinforcing her long-time positive stance on Beijing.
“The all-round cooperation between China and the Philippines over the past two years has been very good indeed, perhaps as good as it has ever been,” she told Chinese President Xi Jinping on the final day of his visit to Manila.
President for more than nine years until 2010, Arroyo, who is now speaker of the House of Representatives, said she supported and applauded the strategic and comprehensive relationship her successor Rodrigo Duterte was taking with China.
“It is similar … to the approach to China that I took when I was president,” she told Xi, whom she last met before he became China’s leader.
Xi said he appreciated Arroyo’s contribution to the friendship between the two countries, praising her as “an old and good friend of the Chinese people”.
“I hope the [Philippine] congress and the Senate can play a bigger role in promoting the relationship,” he said, using a colloquial term for the House of Representatives.
On Tuesday, Duterte and Xi witnessed the signing of 29 contracts, including a memorandum of understanding to cooperate on oil and gas development in the South China Sea.
While no details of the deal have been made public, its agreement sparked an outcry in Manila, as the two countries have for decades been locked in a territorial dispute over maritime boundaries and the rights to the sea’s rich resources.
In 2016, an international arbitration court ruled in favour of the Philippines in its dispute with China, and disregarded the “nine-dash line” Beijing uses to lay claim to almost all of the South China Sea.
Under Duterte, however, Manila has favoured building bridges with Beijing rather than continuing their quarrel over the troubled waters.
As Beijing and Manila shake hands on South China Sea energy deal, backlash from Filipino critics begins
The latest cooperation deal is not the first time the two nations have worked together to exploit the riches of the South China Sea, however. In 2004, under Arroyo and then Chinese president Hu Jintao, Manila and Beijing signed a US$15 million deal – known as the Joint Maritime Seismic Undertaking – to jointly conduct seismic prospecting for oil in the sea.
Although the agreement was joined the following year by Vietnam, it faced strong opposition in the Philippines and protesters there filed a case against it with the Supreme Court on the grounds it violated the constitution.
Beside those allegations, the cooperation deal was the subject of multiple disputes over resource development between the parties involved and was wound up in 2008.
Arroyo first travelled to China in the 1970s when her father was president, and made nine visits as president, including one to the site of the devastating Sichuan earthquake in 2008. Her administration signed more than 65 bilateral agreements with Beijing.
As well as her legislative role in Manila she is member of the board of the Boao Forum for Asia.