UPDATE1: China, Philippines sign deals to link Asia with Europe

21, Nov. 2018

――Recasts Nov. 20 story with details, official comments

MANILA, NNA - China and the Philippines signed 29 agreements on Tuesday providing Manila with Chinese money to develop infrastructure under Beijing’s ambitious plan to link Asia with Europe and Africa.

Highlighting a two-day visit by President Xi Jinping are 10 agreements to improve roads, railroads, harbors and airports among other public assets in the Philippines under his Belt and Road Initiative launched five years ago.

Xi’s visit to Manila through Wednesday comes amid an improvement in bilateral relations after years of conflict over the disputed territories in the West Philippine Sea (the South China Sea), and a recent warning from the U.S. about making loan agreements with China.

The two countries also agreed on a controversial plan to jointly explore oil and gas, which critics fear might compromise the sovereignty of the Philippines. The presidential palace has yet to release details, but local media reported that it would cover the disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Among six agreements on banking and finance are creation of the Renminbi-Philippine Peso Foreign Exchange Trading Market and the granting of a certificate of authority for the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Ltd. to operate a Manila branch.

In a joint statement, Xi said he had a friendly and productive discussion with President Rodrigo Duterte, charting the future course of bilateral ties.

He said they both agreed “to elevate our relationship to comprehensive, strategic cooperation.”

“This vision charts a clear course for China-Philippines relations and sends a strong message to the world that our two countries are partners in seeking common development,” Xi added.

On the South China Sea dispute, the Chinese leader said they both agreed to promote maritime cooperation through friendly consultation.

He said they would work with the Association of South-East Asian nations “towards the conclusion of the COC (potential code of conduct) consultations based on consensus within three years, and contribute our share to peace, stability and welfare in this region.”

The Philippines, a long-time U.S. ally, was locked in a dispute with China over parts of the South China Sea during the term of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III. Manila filed an international arbitration case against Beijing and won.

However, Duterte changed the country’s course when he took office two years ago, declaring the Philippines’ “pivot to China.”

“There is a deepening trust and confidence [between] our governments, and we have greatly increased dialogue and interaction on many levels,” Duterte said Tuesday.