MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping decided to "elevate" their countries' ties into a "comprehensive strategic cooperation" even as they "continue to manage contentious issues" in the West Philippine Sea.
In a joint press conference, Xi said, "The President and I both agreed to elevate our relationship into one of comprehensive strategic cooperation. This vision charts a clear course for China-Philippines relations and sends a strong message to the world that our two countries are partners in seeking common development."
Xi also agreed with Duterte that "every country has the right to choose its path."
"Recognizing the wisdom in the saying all creatures may grow together without harming each other, all roads may run parallel without interfering with one another, both sides agree that there is no one size fits all development model and that every country has the right to choose its own path," Xi said.
"I commend President Duterte for his leadership under which the people of this country have actively searched for, and found, a development path in sync with the trend of the times and the Philippines' reality and have created a bright prospect of economic and social development," he added.
Managing 'contentious issues'
Xi also said they discussed the South China Sea issue. China continues to assert its expansive claim over the South China Sea, part of which is the West Philippine Sea, despite an international ruling that invalidated its 9-dash line.
In his remarks, Xi vowed to work toward concluding, within 3 years, the talks between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for a Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea.
"China and the Philippines have lots of common interests in the South China Sea. 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 consultations based on consensus within 3 years and contribute our share to peace, stability, and welfare in this region," the Chinese president said.
During Xi's visit, the Philippines and China signed a deal on oil and gas development in the West Philippine Sea, but it is unclear if this was the expected framework agreement for joint exploration. (READ: PH quietly prepares joint exploration deal with China for Xi visit)
The two countries signed a total of 29 agreements on the first day of Xi's visit. (READ: LIST: Deals signed during Xi Jinping's trip to Philippines)
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.