A Hague ruling on the South China Sea was just a “piece of paper” and the case would “take the back seat” in talks with President Xi Jinping on Thursday, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said in Beijing on Wednesday.
Officials said the two sides were expected to sign nearly 20 memoranda of understanding – mostly on economic cooperation – and shore up other joint efforts against drugs and terrorism.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing was pleased to move towards resolving the maritime territorial dispute “through consultation and dialogue”.
“This is how two friendly neighbours should treat each other,” she said. “We have our own judgment on who is our friend, and we know what issues we can handle in a way like between friends.”
Duterte arrived in Beijing on Tuesday with a huge business delegation to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance, amid deteriorating ties with long-time ally the United States.
His effort to engage China, just months after the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled against Beijing’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea, reverses Philippine foreign policy.
China refused to take part in the arbitration case brought by Manila or recognise its findings.
Duterte said on Wednesday night that he would wait for Xi to raise the issue. “I have to be courteous and I have to wait for your president to mention it in passing for me to respond,” he said.
“And you will say, will it take a back seat? Of course, it has to take the back seat.”
He said the tribunal’s ruling was “a piece of paper with four corners”. “The arbitral award gives us the right. China has the historical right. And they’re insisting. In this situation, do we argue, or do we just talk? I would say, let us put it [off] to some other day.”
Hua said announcements on infrastructure and economic development were expected during Duterte’s trip.
Philippine National Police chief Ronald dela Rosa said he had talks with his Chinese counterparts about joint efforts against drugs. “We will be sharing information, intelligence exchanges. They can help us in our war on drugs,” Dela Rosa said. “Also they are going to donate some police equipment,” he added, refusing to give details.
Philippine Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said the trade deals to be announced included a US$3 billion Bank of China credit facility for Philippine infrastructure projects.
Duterte’s only official event yesterday was a dinner with Filipino expats. He will also meet Premier Li Keqiang and national legislature chief Zhang Dejiang and be at a business forum with Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Agence France-Presse