BEIJING (Reuters) - China is looking to expand trade with the Philippines during President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit this week, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce said on Tuesday, as the two sides seek new commercial ties to soothe years of hostility.
Duterte will travel with at least 200 business leaders during his four-day trip beginning on Tuesday, which could signal a transformation in a relationship dogged by rival territorial claims in the South China Sea.
The move to engage China, just a few months after an arbitral ruling in the disputed waters sparked fears in the region of a backlash by Beijing, marks a striking reversal in Philippine foreign policy since Duterte took office on June 30.
China has welcomed the shift in tone, which has put Manila’s relations with Washington under strain.
Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang said China’s tropical fruit imports from the Philippines was one area of trade the two sides would look to expand during the visit.
China will strengthen trade links with the Philippines, encourage businesses to invest there, strengthen bilateral infrastructure construction and human resources training, Shen told a regular news briefing.
“China looks forward to Philippine President Duterte’s visit, further consolidating and strengthening bilateral trade relations, and continuously elevating the scope of bilateral cooperation to bring more practical benefits to both peoples and countries,” Shen said.
Duterte has said his trip to China represents a turning point in bilateral ties, but has acknowledged some public concern about his rapid rapprochement moves.
On Sunday, he said he would raise the controversial South China Sea ruling with China’s leaders and vowed not to surrender any sovereignty or deviate from the July award by the tribunal in the Hague that dealt a blow to China’s extensive maritime claims in the region.
Beijing has refused to recognize the case and has chided any country telling it to abide by the ruling.
China’s official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that the verdict had no place in negotiations, but that years of “bad blood” was giving way to “good faith”.
“Should he demonstrate his good faith, the trip will present a long overdue opportunity for the two nations, which enjoy longstanding friendship, to heal the wounds of the past few years and steer their relationship back to the right course,” Xinhua said.
Reporting by Yawen Chen and Michael Martina; Editing by Kim Coghill