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Chinese, Philippine Foreign Ministers to Meet in Manila

Luis Liwanag and Dennis Jay Santos
Manila and Davao, Philippines
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Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano (left) shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi after passing on a hand-written letter from President Rodrigo Duterte to Chinese President Xi Jinping, during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, March 21, 2018.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is scheduled to visit the Philippines next week to discuss bilateral cooperation deals, Filipino foreign affairs officials said Wednesday, although overlapping claims in the South China Sea will likely also top the agenda for the talks.

Wang was expected to arrive in Manila on Sunday for the two-day visit, and will seek to build further on the “strong friendship between the Philippines and China,” according to the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs.

“State Councilor Wang’s visit is a demonstration that our bilateral ties are becoming solid and steady as never before,” Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.

“The Philippines and China are both committed to continue on the path of cooperation, all the while ensuring that the Filipino and the Chinese peoples will reap the dividends of our mutual efforts,” he said.

The upcoming visit by Wang reciprocates Cayetano’s recent trip to China, and among other issues, the two top diplomats will look at the possibility of joint cooperation in Manila’s flagship infrastructure projects, officials said.

While in Manila, Wang will also talk with Cayetano about a possible agreement on oil and gas cooperation in the South China Sea. Terms of the proposed deal have not been made public, but officials had said earlier that it could be a 60-40 sharing agreement, with Manila enjoying the bigger share.

“With continued dialogue and consultation anchored on mutual trust and respect, and the resolute pursuit of mutually beneficial practical cooperation, Philippines and China will continue to work together in managing differences and addressing issues pertaining to the West Philippine Sea,” Cayetano said, using the Philippine name for the South China Sea.

Last month, Cayetano said the government was negotiating the terms of the deal. This was before he traveled to Singapore to attend an annual ministerial meeting of Southeast Asian countries that China also attended.

While the government has not pinpointed the exact location stipulated under the sharing deal, it is widely believed that it will be on Reed Bank, which Manila calls Recto Bank. Initial seismic surveys indicate that the bank could be rich in natural deposits.

While it is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, which was affirmed by an arbitration court in June 2016, China has carried on with contesting its ownership over the area.

But analysts have pointed out that the arbitration ruling won by the Philippines already puts Reed Bank under Manila’s control, and say its resources should be exclusively controlled and enjoyed by Filipinos.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines over China, saying there was no legal basis for Beijing to claim “historical rights” in the sea region.

The ruling was hailed internationally, but angered China. Beijing responded by expanding and militarizing structures it had built in the region, despite earlier agreements to halt all construction activities.

Wang’s visit here comes at a time when his government is increasingly thumbing its nose at international opprobrium as it barrels ahead with expansionist moves in the region.

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, has sought to appease China after its loss in the arbitration court. He has instead opened the country’s door to Beijing since winning the presidency two years ago, earning criticism and anger from allies in the West, including the United States.

Jeoffrey Maitem contributed to this report.

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