PRRD expected to highlight renewed China-PH relations in 2nd SONA

BEIJING-- A renewed China-Philippines relations is one of the accomplishments that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is expected to highlight in his second state-of-the-nation-address (SONA) on Monday.

Two weeks after Duterte took his oath as the country's 16th President, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) released a decision favoring the Philippines' arbitration case against China's nine-dash line claim that covers almost the whole area of disputed South China Sea.

China has rejected PCA's judgment which came out three years after former President Benigno Aquino III's administration filed the arbitration case amid China's reported massive reclamation in South China Sea.

In his first SONA, President Duterte said the Philippines strongly affirms its respect to the PCA ruling as an important contribution to the ongoing efforts to pursue the peaceful resolution and management of our disputes.

Later in 2016, President Duterte has opted to temporarily shelve the PCA's verdict to allow resolution of the maritime disputes through friendly dialogues and negotiations.

China was pleased by Duterte's move, insisting that the maritime dispute should be settled in peaceful manner among claimant countries to maintain peace and economic stability in the region.

Philippines Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana explained that the Duterte administration has used a two-track approach to tackle South China Sea disputes with China.

"Instead of an approach putting the dispute at the center of the bilateral relations, the Duterte administration decided to separate into two tracks. The contentious issues on one track and non-contentious issues on another track, Sta. Romana said in a recent interview with group of Filipino journalists in Beijing.

The contentious issues, he said, are the issues of sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction including China's nine-dash line while non-contentious issues are trade, economic, infrastructures and people-to-people exchanges.

"The non-contentious issues were frozen on the past years because the dispute has been put at the center. The basic approach now is don't let the dispute be an obstacle to developing the non-contentious issues, he explained.

True enough, the dual-track approach has rejuvenated China-Philippines relations, leading to President Duterte's two productive visits to China upon the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

In his first visit in October last year, President Duterte brought home USD 24 billion worth of investment pledges and infrastructure projects.

At the sideline of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation last May in Beijing, President Duterte witnessed the signing of agreement for China's RMB500 million grant to the Philippines to conduct feasibility studies for major projects, construction of the drug abuse treatment and rehabilitation center and bridges crossing the Pasig River and other projects agreed by both sides.

"Aside from two bridges are three projects and these are Chico River irrigation project for farmers, Kaliwa Dam for water supply in Metro Manila and the South line railway from Laguna to Bicol, Sta. Romana said.

He is hoping that the two bridges along Pasig River and the three other infrastructure projects where China will invest USD 3.5 billion will be launched within this year.

Sta. Romana said the Mindanao railway section in Davao along with a long bridge from Panay Island via Negros to Guimaras Island will hopefully start next year.

The improved China-Philippines relations had also prompted China to lift restrictions on the import of bananas and pineapples from the Philippines.

China is also interested in increasing its imports of mangoes, coconut and dragon fruits as well as crabs, shrimps, prawns, tuna and lapu-lapu from the Philippines.

In the field of tourism, Sta. Romana said the Philippines is now on the right track of achieving one million Chinese tourist arrivals this year while China is contemplating to hire more Filipino English teachers.

During DFA Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano's visit early this month in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi promised that China will continue to support the Philippines in its fight against terrorism and he said: China will not hesitate in extending its helping hand to its close neighbor.

China has donated thousands of guns worth USD7.35 million to the Philippines to help the military in its battle against terrorists, including Islamist gunmen in conflict-torn Marawi City.

Wang said since the revival of the China-Philippines relations in October last year, the two countries have signed 22 cooperation agreements in areas of infrastructures, commerce, trade, and agriculture.

Last July 12 during the first anniversary of the PCA's judgment, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) reaffirmed its commitment to resolve the South China Sea dispute in a manner consistent with the spirit of good neighborly relations.

"President Duterte's priority of regional peace and stability has led to the healthy environment of dialogue, cooperation, and development," said in a DFA statement.

"The Philippines shall remain an enemy to none and a friend to all in its pursuit of economic and political benefits for the country, including the long-term security and stability in the region," it added.

During their bilateral talks in Beijing in October 2016, Presidents Xi and Duterte reached a consensus to form Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) on the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea.

Seven months later, the 1st Meeting of the China-Philippines BCM on the South China Sea was finally held in Guiyang, China. The next BCM meeting was set later this year in Manila.

Sta. Romana has described the Guiyang's BCM meeting as excellent where the Philippines team which he led was able to discuss almost all contentious issues of South China Sea with the Chinese delegates headed by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin.

He said the basic direction of the BCM is to try to stabilize the situation and develop trust and confidence between China and the Philippines.

The Filipino envoy believes that pursuing President Duterte's independent foreign policy "will redound to the greater number of Filipinos".

"Our goal is to advance the Philippines' national interest, the goal is to have friendship with all countries and to avoid conflict with any country. At least we were able to talk about it in amicable and civil manner now, he added.

Source: Philippine News Agency