China's Xi Jinping Pays His First Visit to the Philippines

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III

Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III

Philippine opposition senators have demanded President Rodrigo Duterte reveal details of joint energy exploration plans with China, warning such a deal risked affirming Chinese territorial claims that are not recognized under global law. Chinese officials have asked Washington to back off from what they say is a purely Asian dispute, but the USA has vowed to maintain a presence in the waters, where it has no claims but has vowed to continue naval patrols to promote freedom of navigation and overflight despite Chinese warnings.

Despite being touted as "mutually beneficial" the memorandum is not universally supported, with many people in the Philippines feeling that giving any economic concessions to China undermines the nation's territorial claims in the South China Sea. Many fear the long-simmering disputes could spark an armed conflict that could shatter Asia's bustling economies.

China and the Philippines will search for oil and gas in the South China Sea without affecting each other's position on "sovereignty and maritime rights and interests" in the disputed waters, according to a leaked copy of an agreement that was expected to be signed on Tuesday in the presence of Chinese President Xi Jinping and President Rodrigo Duterte.

Asked if the joint oil exploration deal will also be signed, Dominguez said: "I believe that's part of the agreements that is being considered and Energy Secretary (Alfonso) Cusi is leading the effort in this area". The administration of Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, brought the disputes with China over the strategic waterway to worldwide arbitration and won, but China has ignored the outcome.

Duterte has enthusiastically embraced Xi, even setting aside a key 2016 ruling from an global tribunal that declared as without basis Beijing´s expansive claim over the waterway.

Duterte's rapprochement has fostered a new era of warmer relations with the Asian economic powerhouse, from which he has sought trade and investment, infrastructure financing and weapons to fight insurgents.

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"There's friction between China and Western nations", Duterte said last week, noting that the Philippines doesn't want to see any miscalculation. Both Xi and Duterte have often been in the crosshairs of human rights groups.

"The President and I agreed to elevate our relationship to one of comprehensive strategic cooperation", Xi was quoted as saying during a press briefing with Duterte.

Presidential Spokesman and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador S. Panelo said in a statement the Chinese leader's visit "marks an opportunity to further strengthen and sustain our bilateral relations with the foreign country, which surged forward under the visionary leadership of President Duterte". More than 300 protesters with placards that read "Philippines not for sale" and "Hands off our land and seas" rallied in front of the Chinese Consulate in Manila.

"It is similar ... to the approach to China that I took when I was president", she told Xi, whom she last met before he became China's leader.

But Panelo gave assurance that a joint oil and gas exploration deal with China in the West Philippine Sea would stand judicial scrutiny in both countries.

The ambitious program has been criticized by the United States as enticing poor nations into debt bondage and has warned it could compromise their independence. -China trade tensions. Vice President Mike Pence attacked China at APEC, calling on member states to avoid loans that will leave them indebted to Beijing. The Palace official also praised China's "continued efforts to promote peace and stability" in the Southeast Asia region-even after the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the installation of three weather stations in disputed territory in the South China Sea.

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