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Duterte in China for fourth time since taking office

President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in China on Wednesday night to attend a key infrastructure forum and hold talks with Chinese leaders.

The plane carrying Duterte and his delegation touched down at 7:40 p.m. at the Beijing International Airport where he was welcomed by Philippine and Chinese officials. Duterte’s common-law wife Honeylet Avanceña and their daughter Veronica joined him in this four-day visit.

Duterte will begin his official engagements with separate meetings on Thursday with China’s President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, who is set to host a dinner in Duterte’s honor.

It was not immediately clear whether Duterte will raise the recent developments in the disputed South China Sea with the Chinese leaders.

However, Manila’s Ambassador to Beijing Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana said based on previous engagements the two sides made a general review of the state of the bilateral relations and exchanged views on international issues including the maritime row.

On Friday, Duterte will attend the opening session of the second Belt and Road forum with other world leaders and witness the signing of business agreements.

The Department of Foreign Affairs also said some possible deals to be signed are in the areas of education, anti-corruption, official development assistance, and drug rehabilitation.

On Saturday, the President would speak at the Leaders’ Roundtable before he returns to the Philippines later in the day.

Xi's Belt and Road Initiative, unveiled in 2013, aims to bolster a sprawling network of land and sea links with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Ahead of the summit, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said last Friday that the Belt and Road project is not a "geopolitical tool" or a debt crisis for participating nations even as Beijing welcomes constructive suggestions on how to address concerns over the initiative.

This is Duterte’s fourth visit to China since taking office in 2016 when he announced an “independent” foreign policy which meant pivoting away from the country’s traditional ally, the United States, and bringing Manila closer to Washington’s rivals, Russia and China.

Duterte embarked on a state visit to China in October 2016 when the Filipino leader heralded “springtime” in diplomatic relations that had been strained by the maritime dispute.

The President temporarily set aside the 2016 ruling of The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration, which invalidated Beijing's excessive claims to the South China Sea, in order to forge stronger trade and economic ties with China. He promised though to raise the decision at a proper time during his term which ends in June 2022.

Duterte's succeeding visits to China were in May 2017 for the first Belt and Road Forum and in April last year in Hong Kong and Hainan province to attend the Boao Forum For Asia. —LDF/GMA News