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Xi: PHL, China boost ties to strategic cooperation

President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping have agreed to upgrade Philippines-China relations to "a strategic cooperation", the Chinese leader declared at a joint press conference in Malacañang on Tuesday.

Xi said the comprehensive and strategic cooperation was a "strong signal" to the rest of the world that the Philippines and China were "partners in seeking common development."

"The President and I both agreed to elevate our relationship into one of comprehensive, strategic cooperation," Xi said.

"This vision charts a clear course for China-Philippines relations and it sends a strong message to the world that our two countries are partners in seeking common development," he added.

In a dramatic shift in Philippine foreign policy, Duterte after he won the presidency in 2016 took steps to mend ties with China, marred by territorial spats in the disputed South China Sea.

He also threatened ties with the Philippines' treaty ally, the United States, for criticizing his war on illegal drugs.

Duterte also temporarily set aside the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that invalidated China's excessive claims in the South China Sea in order to forge stronger trade and economic ties with the Asian power.

He promised to bring up the decision with China at a proper time during his term which ends in June 2022.

The Palace earlier said China is now considered a top trading partner of the Philippines, a leading export market for the Philippines, and one of the largest tourist origins to the Philippines.

"Both sides of the view that we have been good and close neighbors for thousands of years—that our relationship has been defined by equality, mutual assistance and a common destiny, and that our strong relationship is a shared asset of the two peoples," Xi added.

While the "international situation" may change, Xi said the Philippines and China "will remain committed to this relationship and work hard to make it even stronger."

"China respects and supports your endeavors and we would like to see the Philippines playing an even bigger role in regional and international affairs," he said.

Duterte, meanwhile, hailed Xi's inaugural state visit to the Philippines, saying it gave "new impetus to our mutual efforts to enhance collaboration in ensuring the well-being of our peoples and contributing to peace and stability in the region."

"I am pleased with the current positive momentum of the Philippines-China relations. There is a deepening trust and confidence [between] our Governments, and we have greatly increased dialogue and interaction on many levels," he said. 

Xi also devoted time to address the South China Sea issue.

"We will continue to manage contentious issues and promote maritime cooperation through friendly consultation and we will work alongside other ASEAN countries towards the conclusion of the COC [code of conduct] consultations based on consensus within three years and contribute our share to peace, stability, and the welfare in this region," he said.

The Philippines is currently the dialogue coordinator between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which are negotiating for a conduct of conduct which aims to prevent conflicting territorial claims in the resource rich waters from erupting into violent confrontations or worse, an economically-devastating major conflict.

At the ASEAN-China Summit in Singapore last week, Duterte delivered a common statement in which both parties vowed “full and effective implementation” of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the “expeditious conclusion of an effective” COC.

ASEAN and China also said they expect an initial review of the draft negotiating text for the COC to happen next year.

"Faced with the big issues of peace and development, China and the Philippines must join hands to uphold the interests of the developing world, resist protectionism and unilateralism, and promote peace, stability and prosperity in our region and beyond," Xi said. —NB, GMA News