Li says PH-China ties as warm as Manila temperature

FRIENDSHIP'S NEW HEIGHTS. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte give statements after their expanded bilateral meeting in Malacau00f1ang. RTVM screenshot

FRIENDSHIP'S NEW HEIGHTS. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte give statements after their expanded bilateral meeting in Malacau00f1ang.

RTVM screenshot

MANILA, Philippines – During his official visit to the Philippines, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang likened improving Philippine-China ties to the sweltering Manila weather.

"Winter has come to the Northern Hemisphere, but the temperature in Manila is still running pretty high. I think that somewhat reflects the temperature of China-Philippine relations which is also going pretty high," Li said on Wednesday, November 15, through a translator.

He hopes the two countries will "strengthen this positive momentum" to "make up for the time we might have lost."

Li's metaphor aptly took off from Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's own remarks in his state visit to Beijing roughly a year ago, in October 2016.

Back then, Duterte used China's seasons to describe the new phase of Philippine-China ties.

"Even as we arrived in Beijing close to winter, this is a springtime of our relationship," he had said in the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

On Wednesday, Li described that Beijing visit as an "icebreaking" trip.

Li said the renewed friendship has already led to concrete gains for the Philippines. In the last 10 months, for instance, he said China has become the Philippines' "top trading partner."

He also cited China's importation of "13,000 batches of tropical fruits" from the Southeast Asian country and the 14 new flights between the two countries. 

Li expects Chinese tourists to make "some one million trips" to the Philippines by the end of the year.

Duterte to 'reciprocate'

During the Chinese leader's visit to Malacañang, he and Duterte witnessed the signing of 14 deals, including a P1.1-billion grant for the rehabilitation of war-torn Marawi City.

They also launched the Binondo-Intramuros and Estrella-Pantaleon Bridges Project and Mindanao Drug Rehabilitation Center, funded by a grant from China.

Duterte was effusive in his thanks during their expanded bilateral meeting, even saying he hopes to one day "reciprocate" China's generosity.

Duterte said: "We are not really in parity as yours. But maybe in the years to come the Filipinos will reciprocate what you have done for us."

He said he owed China a "debt of gratitude."

"At this time, we cannot offer you anything because we are the ones needing help. But maybe in the future, Philippines would also show its debt of gratitude to China," said Duterte.

As expected, no mention of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute or the Hague ruling won by Manila against Beijing was mentioned in their public statements.

But Li alluded to them when he spoke of the "ups and downs" in their countries' relationship.

"Due to well-known reasons for some period of time, there were much doubts expressed by international media outlets as to whether the friendship between our two countries would be able to consolidate and even last," said Li. 

He added that it's high time their two nations "tell our own stories."

Li expressed China's wish for the heightened cooperation between Beijing and Manila to last even beyond Duterte's 6-year term, which ends in 2022.

"My suggestion is that our two sides may sit down together to discuss and formulate cooperation plans in these areas, lasting for the next 5 or even to 10 years," said the Chinese Premier.

Li is the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit the Philippines during the Duterte administration. His visit comes right after the Philippines hosted the 31st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and Related Summits, which he also attended. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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