China plans to expand trade with the Philippines, in areas such as tropical fruit imports, during Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s state visit to Beijing, which Foreign Minister Wang Yi said would be a success even before it started.

Chinese media and analysts have also urged Beijing to reciprocate Mr Duterte’s goodwill. One suggestion is to consider the possibility of introducing a “flexible fishing policy” to allow Filipinos to fish in waters of the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

Mr Duterte arrived in Beijing last night after a three-day state visit to Brunei. China is the first country outside of South-east Asia that the 71-year-old leader is visiting after coming to power in June. All eyes are on how Mr Duterte’s visit will improve bilateral ties, further strained when an arbitral tribunal at The Hague ruled in favour of Manila in its dispute with Beijing over the South China Sea. China refused to accept the ruling and Mr Duterte, on his part, downplayed it.

“I believe President Duterte’s visit will be a success,” Mr Wang said yesterday afternoon. Calling it a “historical visit” that will mark a new starting point for Sino-Philippine ties, he added: “China highly values this visit… we are willing to extend our friendship and cooperation to the people of the Philippines.”

Commerce Ministry spokesman Shen Danyang said at a regular press briefing yesterday that officials on both sides are actively making preparations for announcements on bilateral economic and trade cooperationduring the visit.

China will expand trade links with the Philippines, encourage businesses to invest there, and strengthen bilateral infrastructure construction and human resources training, he said.

Given Mr Duterte’s friendly overtures towards Beijing, the Chinese government, state media and analysts have been positive about the visit, with some calling it an “ice-breaking journey” as the four-day trip is said to have been upgraded from an official visit to a state visit.

The Global Times, in an editorial yesterday, went a step further, calling on Beijing to “express its goodwill to Filipino fishermen and their president” at the Chinese-controlled Scarborough Shoal, and “adopt a flexible policy on the Philippines’ fishing rights”.

The newspaper, which is linked to the Chinese Communist Party, added that “a flexible fishing policy will bring the Sino-Philippine relationship to a new stage”.

However, analyst Chen Xiang- miao told The Straits Times that as the disputed atoll was part of the tribunal ruling, which stated that Filipino fishermen have traditional fishing rights in the area, it is very unlikely that any progress could be made on that front as Beijing has made its position clear.

Instead, both sides could talk about fishery cooperation, with China offering technical and monetary aid to help develop the sector.

“The purpose of the fishermen fishing at Scarborough Shoal was for their livelihood, and the issue of sovereignty is secondary to them,” said Dr Chen, a research fellow at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies.

Dr Zhong Feiteng, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told The Beijing News that as a big country with a long history, China is increasingly viewing its neighbouring areas as a whole.

“Beijing should take a long view when dealing with Manila,” he said. “(It should) see the Philippines as an important node in its 21st-century Maritime Silk Road initiative, and build a new maritime order that connects the East and South China Seas.”


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