President Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing vouched for the Philippines’ joint projects with China which are controversial back home.
In his opening statement during his bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday, Duterte said the agreements signed during Xi’s visit to the Philippines in November 2018 must be implemented at the soonest possible time to benefit both countries.
“We envision… high-quality and good impact projects,” Duterte said. “The sooner they are completed, the sooner people on the ground will feel the benefits of Philippine-China relations.”
A total of 29 bilateral agreements, including the controversial Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Cooperation on Oil and Gas Development, were inked during Xi’s state visit to the Philippines. Critics have expressed concern the billions of pesos in grants and investments from China came with strings attached and that the Philippines could fall into a debt trap – something both Manila and Beijing officials denied.
On Thursday, Duterte and Xi witnessed the exchange of letters on production capacity and investment cooperation between the National Economic Development Authority and its Chinese counterpart. China also turned over to the Philippines the grant-aid for drug treatment facilities in Sarangani and Agusan del Norte south of the country.
A total of five bilateral deals are expected to be signed in the areas of education, anti-corruption, official development assistance, and drug rehabilitation.
“The Philippines [and] China must continue to work together to explore new areas of cooperation and partnership,” Duterte said.
This is the President’s fourth trip to China since the start of his term in 2016. He went to China for the Boao Forum for Asia in April 2018, the First Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May 2017, and his meeting with Xi in October 2016. Duterte will stay in China until April 27 for the Second Belt and Road Forum.
His China trip comes as the Philippines protested the swarming of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea and Chinese fishermen’s harvesting of giant clams, locally known as Taklobos, in Scarborough Shoal. China’s latest actions prompted Duterte to ask the East Asian giant to “lay off Pag-asa Island,” which Malacañang said is tantamount to invoking the Hague ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims in the South China Sea.