He made clear that he would seek to cement economic and trade deals worth billions of dollars with the China, the country’s second largest trading partner. Among his entourage are as many as 400 prominent Philippine business leaders.
Significantly, he indicated that his government could be willing to drop its disputes with China over the South China Sea. China and the Philippines have reportedly agreed to open bilateral negotiations on their territorial disputes, and will establish a joint committee between their coastguards. Duterte did not raise with Xi the issue of the Scarborough Shoals, which have been a source of conflict between the two countries and of which China took control in 2012. But a Reuters report, indicated that Beijing may be willing to grant Filipino fishermen access to the shoal.
Behind the scenes, Washington and its substantial constituency of supporters within the Philippine ruling elite and military are no doubt making contingency plans. Ahead of Duterte’s trip, Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio warned that the president would be in violation of the constitution, and could be impeached, if he gave up sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoals.
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