South China Sea row may yet be tackled when President Rodrigo Duterte visits China next week starting Oct. 18.
Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said the issue of the South China Sea is likely to be threshed out when Duterte meets his counterpart, Xi Jinping.
The two leaders are expected to sign several agreements to boost ties between the Philippines and China.
“We expect all areas of interest to be discussed including the South China Sea. I don’t know how things will emerge but I imagine this will be taken up in the meeting of the President with President Xi Jinping,” Jose said in his press briefing.
“We leave it to the President’s wisdom and judgment as to when he thinks the time is appropriate to bring up this matter with the Chinese.”
Duterte’s October 18 to 21 state visit to China will be the first meeting between the heads of state of the two countries in five years, after ties were loosened when the Aquino administration decided to file a case against China before an arbitral tribunal.
The Philippines made a surprising and resounding victory last July 12 days after Duterte assumed the presidency when the international tribunal handed down the ruling that China’s claims to most of the sea had no legal basis and that its artificial island-building was illegal.
Duterte sought to mend ties with Beijing even as he launched a sustained verbal assault against US President Barack Obama, scrapping the joint patrols as well as a series of annual war games.
Earlier, Duterte said he was willing to “set aside” the South China Sea dispute in return for China building a railway through the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.
He also said it was not in the nation’s interest to insist on its claim over Scarborough Shoal, a fishing ground within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone that China seized in 2012.
“Let’s just not dwell on Scarborough because we cannot fight them,” Duterte said this week.
Duterte is also set to “visit some law enforcement and drug rehabilitation centers” in China, the DFA said.
The President is also expected to meet with the Filipino community in China, and deliver the keynote address at the Trade and Investment Forum, which will be attended by Filipino and Chinese investors.
“With this visit by President Duterte, the Philippines hopes to strengthen the bilateral ties between the Philippines and China through mutual respect and sincere cooperation for the prosperity and benefit of both countries and their peoples,” Jose said.
Before leaving for Beijing, Duterte is first scheduled to fly to Brunei on October 16 for a state visit where he will hold bilateral talks with His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam.
“Brunei was scheduled to be the first ASEAN country to be visited by the President this year. However, due to the unfortunate bombing incident in Davao City last September 2, 2016, the President’s visit to Brunei was rescheduled to a later date,” Jose said.
Duterte’s delegation to China has yet to be finalized, but a large group of businessmen who signified their intention to join the trip will be “traveling at their own expense,” the DFA said.
At least 400 businessmen have signed up to join Duterte’s trip, according to Francis Chua, chair emeritus of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Business tycoons Ramon S. Ang of the San Miguel group, Manuel V. Pangilinan of Metro Pacific and PLDT Inc., Lucio Tan and son Michael Tan of the Lucio Tan group, Hans Sy of the SM group, Carlos Chan of the Oishi group, Alfredo Yao of the Zest-O group and Henry Lim Bon Liong of the Sterling Group of companies are among those who are joining the state visit to China.
Over a hundred officers and members of Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry will also accompany the President, according to industry sources.
Robinsons Land Corp. (RLC) president Frederick Go said the trip would yield more business opportunities given prospects of closer economic ties between the Philippines and China.