Many people are watching and listening to Rodrigo Duterte, the recently elected president of the Philippines.
This week, President Duterte is going overseas and visiting China. The visit is being watched closely for signs of a change in relations between the two countries.
Until recently, China was considered the biggest security threat to the Philippines. The two sides have argued repeatedly over territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
During his campaign for the presidency, Duterte said he would ride a jet ski into the South China Sea to defend his country’s territorial claims. He later told Al Jazeera television that he was only making the statement to excite his political supporters.
Since taking office, the president has threatened to cut relations with the United States. He also has suggested that he might begin improving ties with China or Russia.
But experts say it will be difficult for China and the Philippines to establish good relations after so many years of tensions.
Duterte is traveling to China with more than 200 business leaders.
Aileenn Baviera is a professor with The Asian Center at the University of the Philippines. She told VOA that expanding trade ties between the two countries is an important goal of the visit.
She said the Philippine government wants improved economic relations with China “to get more trade, investment and (to take part in) China’s infrastructure development programs” for the first time in many years.
Japan is the Philippines’ biggest trade partner. Hong Kong is a close second.
The Philippines wants China’s help to improve its railroads and provide guarantees for its workers overseas.
Fishermen from the Philippines have been stopped from working in parts of the South China Sea because of territorial disagreements. Many of them hope the visit will help them regain access to the disputed areas.
Aileen Baviera said it is unlikely Duterte’s visit will be able to reset the issue of the South China Sea. But she said the talks could lead to new thinking and new programs.
Duterte has said he will not negotiate on his country’s rights in the South China Sea. But he said he is willing to talk about the issue.
China and the Philippines may disagree about control of the disputed waterway, but they agree on other issues.
For example, Duterte has reacted strongly to criticism from the United States and the European Union about his campaign against drug dealers. The Chinese government has offered to help in that effort. In fact, China has invested in a treatment center for people who are addicted to illegal drugs.
The Chinese foreign ministry has said that during Duterte’s visit to China, he will take part in activities aimed at fighting the drug trade. The ministry said the anti-narcotics agencies of both countries have begun to talk about ways they can cooperate.
China has shown through its actions that it can help the Philippines with many problems facing the island nation. And Duterte has spoken openly about how much his country needs China.
The president recently spoke with Xinhua, China’s state-operated news agency. He reportedly said that “Only China can help us.” And he said that Chinese help in improving the Philippines’ railroads and economic cooperation is more important than talking about disputes.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
jet ski – n. a small and fast vehicle that is used on water and carries one or two people
infrastructure – n. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region or organization to function properly
access – n. permission or the right to enter, get near or make use of something or to have contact with someone (usually + to)
addicted – adj. unable to stop using a harmful substance (such as a drug) (usually + to)
narcotics – n. a drug (such as cocaine, heroin, or marijuana) that affects the brain and that is usually dangerous and illegal