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South China Sea fishing rights at top of Philippine president’s agenda in Beijing

Philippine President Rodrigo ­Duterte is expected to discuss ­crisis management and fishing rights in the disputed South China Sea when he visits Beijing next month.

Duterte, who will be in Vietnam on Wednesday, will head to China in the third week of October before going to Japan. The date of his visit has not been announced, but diplomatic observers said he would stay for two days.

As the Philippines currency continued to fall to a seven-year low on Monday, Duterte said he would “open trade alliances” with Russia and China. He said he had already spoken privately with President Xi Jinping and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Manila making plans for Duterte to visit China, Japan in October

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies and who met ­Duterte’s special envoy Fidel ­Ramos in August, said talks were expected to cover fishing rights in the Scarborough Shoal to help contain tensions in the South China Sea.

Filipino fishermen have complained of harassment by Chinese government vessels in the Scarborough Shoal.

“China wants to develop ­crisis-management plans with Manila, and is willing to expand cooperation with Manila on areas not related to the disputed waters,” Wu said. “China would not necessarily give the Philippines fishing access near the Scarborough Shoal as they demand.”

Duterte might also push for more Chinese tourists to visit the Philippines, and China to relax curbs on imports of Philippine agriculture products, Wu said.

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Ties between Beijing and Manila deteriorated after Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino, applied three years ago to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague for a ruling on Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea.

The tribunal rejected Beijing’s claims in July but China said it did not recognise the decision.

Duterte has repeatedly signalled he is looking to distance the Philippines from the United States, but his comments yesterday were his most explicit on a planned pivot towards US rivals China and Russia.

Richard Heydarian, assistant professor of international affairs at De La Salle University in Manila, said China and the Philippines had a stronger incentive to negotiate a mutually satisfactory arrangement to avoid further escalation in the South China Sea.

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“A joint fishing agreement in the Scarborough Shoal and a non-aggression pact in contested areas are some of the low-hanging fruit they can discuss while they put the issue of sovereignty and the arbitration award aside,” he said.

But Dai Fan, a Southeast Asia expert at Jinan University, said China would be wary of a deal with Duterte because of inconsistencies in some of his comments.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse