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China’s Wang says Duterte ‘most respected, important friend’ for Xi Jinping

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has praised the improving relations between Manila and Beijing under President Rodrigo Duterte ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Philippines next month.

Xi will be in Manila after the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit in Papua New Guinea in November, reciprocating a state visit made by Duterte in October 2016 when the Filipino leader heralded a “springtime” in diplomatic relations that have been strained by the maritime row in the disputed South China Sea.

Relations between the Philippines and China have improved considerably under Duterte who temporarily set aside the arbitral ruling that invalidated Beijing's excessive claims in the resource rich sea in order to forge stronger trade and economic ties with the Asian power.

“Facts have proven and will continue to prove that the friendly policy towards China adopted by President Duterte is completely in keeping with the fundamental and long-term interest of the Philippines and the Filipinos,” Wang said during the birthday celebration of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano in Davao City on Sunday.

Wang also said Duterte, who was at the event, is “the most respected and the most important friend for President Xi Jinping and the Chinese people.”

Clad in barong Tagalog, China’s top diplomat also hailed Cayetano whom he considered a personal friend.

“When Mr. Cayetano served as the foreign secretary, one of his most important accomplishments was that he has followed the direction and instruction of President Duterte to overcome various kind of difficulties and help bring about a full turnaround of the bilateral relations between China and the Philippines, helping to put the bilateral relations back on the right path,” Wang said.

“In my view he has made great success in doing this job.”

Duterte, in response, said the Philippines and China are “enjoying the best of our relationship.”

“I’d like to assure the Foreign Minister that the Philippines is very happy with the present trade and our whatever agricultural consciousness of our race and the fact that you have provided livelihood at least to a lot of people if you think about the importations that you have allowed my country,” the President said.

“We have normalized our relationship, and I thank you, China, for all the things that you have done for me. I just also [want to] remind you that here in Davao, we have the largest Chinese community,” he added.

Wang is in the country for a two-day visit for talks with Philippine government officials amid negotiations for an energy exploration deal between the two countries in the South China Sea.