Xi’s Manila Visit Expected to Yield Deals Worth Billions

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AMID the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea and just after the conclusion of the Asean summit and the Apec meetings where Beijing clashed with the US, Chinese President Xi Jinping will arrive in the Philippines today for a landmark two-day state visit.

Classes were suspended in Manila and thousands of police were deployed to secure the overnight visit of Xi, who Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte once called "a great president".

"We will continue to manage contentious issues and promote maritime cooperation through friendly consultation", Xi said. Chinese officials have asked Washington to back off from what they say is a purely Asian dispute, but the US has vowed to maintain a presence in the waters, where it has no claims but has vowed to continue naval patrols to promote freedom of navigation and overflight despite Chinese warnings. Many fear the long-simmering disputes could spark an armed conflict that could shatter Asia's bustling economies.

In the process of meeting with Xi and signing the oil and gas agreement, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte set aside a landmark 2016 global tribunal ruling that declared Beijing's blanket claim of the South China Sea as baseless.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi signed the memorandum of understanding on cooperation on oil and gas development between the Foreign Service Institute of the Philippines and the China Foreign Affairs University.

Asked if the joint oil exploration deal will also be signed, Dominguez said: "I believe that's part of the agreements that is being considered and Energy Secretary (Alfonso) Cusi is leading the effort in this area".

Filipino nationalists have warned that any agreement that can undermine the Philippines' internationally recognized exclusive rights to fish and exploit resources within a 200-nautical-mile stretch of waters from the country's coast would violate the Philippine constitution.

Duterte said there was "a deepening trust and confidence" between them and he and Xi had discussed increasing trade and investment, and China's involvement in his signature $180 billion "Build, Build, Build" infrastructure program. The administration of Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, had brought the territorial disputes with China to worldwide arbitration and won, but China has ignored the outcome.

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Critics are most concerned over Duterte's decision to set aside a major 2016 ruling from an worldwide tribunal that declared as without basis Beijing's expansive claim over the waterway, in favour of courting Chinese investment.

Duterte's rapprochement has fostered a new era of warmer relations with the Asian economic powerhouse, from which he has sought trade and investment, infrastructure financing and weapons to fight insurgents.

Duterte is facing criticism from opponents for making too many political concessions to China in return for billions of dollars of pledged Chinese loans and investments that have yet to materialize, or be committed to formally.

Xi also agreed with Duterte that "every country has the right to choose its path".

More than 300 protesters with placards reading "Hands off our land and seas" rallied in front of the Chinese Consulate in Manila.

"The Philippines is preparing very hard for this historic meeting between the President of the Philippines and the President of China".

With all-round cooperation going well and China being one of the most important partners for the Philippines' economic development, the Philippines-China relations are now at the best period in history, said Arroyo and Sotto.

But, the AFP's fact-checking revealed: "There is no new airport in Manila and the false reports use an image from a design for a planned Chinese airport to mislead". Chinese officials have asked Washington to back off from what they say is a purely Asian dispute, but the US has vowed to maintain a presence in the waters, where it has no claims but has pledged to promote freedom of navigation and overflight.

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