Davao, May 1 (AFP) Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte today visited Chinese warships docked in his home town, highlighting fast-warming relations despite competing claims in the South China Sea.
The visit came a day after Duterte issued a chairman’s statement on behalf of the 10-nation ASEAN bloc that took a soft stance towards Chinese expansionism and island-building in the Sea.
Duterte boarded the missile destroyer Chang Chun which arrived with two other vessels in Davao City on Mindanao island yesterday for a three-day goodwill visit.
“Goodwill games” of basketball and tug-of-war are being staged between the Chinese sailors and their Filipino counterparts in Davao, the Philippine navy said in a statement.
Duterte, elected last year, has changed foreign policy by playing down his country’s territorial dispute with China over large parts of the South China Sea in favour of seeking greater economic aid and investment.
In the chairman’s statement, issued Sunday after he hosted the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Manila, Duterte merely took note of “concerns expressed by some leaders over recent developments in the area”.
He ignored last year’s international ruling outlawing China’s sweeping claims to the key waterway.
ASEAN members the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei claim parts of the Sea, but China insists it has sovereign rights over nearly all of it.
Duterte has said the Philippines and other nations are helpless to stop the island-building, so there is no point challenging China in diplomatic and legal circles.
China is not a member of the 10-nation ASEAN, but its ambassador to Manila worked hard to influence the tenor and content of the chairman’s statement, diplomats earlier told AFP.
The visit of the Chinese vessels to Davao rather than Manila is widely seen as a personal gesture to the controversial Philippine leader.
It is the first Chinese navy port call in the Philippines since 2010, the Philippine navy said.
Opposition legislator Gary Alejano, a former military officer, said that in the ASEAN summit, “they (China) won by convincing Duterte not to include any statement about the (international) ruling”.
“To make matters worse, Duterte even visited the Chinese warships. That only shows the president is trying everything to appease China,” the congressman told AFP.
“It is not about an independent foreign policy. It is about selling out and capitulating to China.” (AFP) KJ
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.