Duterte calls for 'further strengthening' of PH-China relations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 10) — President Rodrigo Duterte said the Philippines and China should forge even stronger ties amid the coronavirus crisis.

"As the entire world continues to face challenges to security and stability and the rule of law and with the rise of non-traditional and emerging threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic, further strengthening Philippines-China partnership takes on even greater significance," Duterte said in his letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping dated June 9.

"We must forge on and ensure that the potential of our special ties is fully realized," Duterte added.

June 9 marks the 45th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Chinese Embassy in Manila posted a copy of Duterte's letter on its official Facebook page.

Duterte reiterated that China "is a close neighbor and valued friend," and that the Philippines remains committed "to preserve and build on the gains of our close partnership for greater peace, progress and prosperity for our nations."

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Losin, Jr. said in a separate letter that he's confident the two countries will "continue to grow in friendship, bridging gaps, cooperating for mutual benefit and prospering in tandem."

Duterte has nurtured friendship with China despite Beijing's refusal to recognize Manila's arbitration win in the South China Sea dispute. The arbitral ruling invalidated China's sweeping claim to almost the entire South China Sea. It recognized Philippine sovereign rights in some areas in the West Philippine Sea that Beijing is claiming.

Duterte agreed to "shelve differences" to make way for the planned joint oil and gas exploration in disputed areas.

The commemoration of the 45th anniversary of Philippines-China ties on Tuesday was also marred by a controversial visit of Filipino officials and reporters to Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island in the disputed Spratlys. The island is claimed by the Philippines, China, Vietnam and Taiwan.

Upon arriving at the island to formally open the Navy’s beaching ramp, reporters were surprised to receive text messages welcoming them to China. Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana also received a text greeting which said, “Welcome to Vietnam!”

Lorenzana only found the text messages amusing and largely ignored them, but suggested that the Philippines also set up its own powerful cell sites on the island that will greet mobile users with “Welcome to the Philippines!”

The Duterte government earlier filed diplomatic protests over China's declaration of two new districts in what it calls Sansha City, which covered areas in the West Philippine Sea, and a Chinese warship's pointing of a radar gun at a Philippine Navy warship.

Despite China's aggression, the Duterte government has been vocal in thanking Beijing for its support in the Philippines' COVID-19 response, and is even counting on the East Asian giant to develop the vaccine against the new coronavirus, which originated in Wuhan, China in 2019.

READ: Govt. expects first dibs on COVID-19 vaccine if 'BFF' China produces it