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Revitalized PH-China ties may be highlighted in SONA

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Reviving China-Philippines relations is one of the accomplishments that President Duterte that may highlight in his second state-of-the-nation-address (SONA) on Monday.

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, which later resulted in improved diplomatic and economic ties between the two nations.

“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.

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.

“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,” the envoy said.

In his first visit in October last year, President Duterte brought home US$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.

Sta. Romana hopes 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.

He 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.

China has also donated thousands of guns worth US$7.35 million to the Philippines to help the military in its battle against terrorists, including Islamist gunmen in conflict-torn Marawi City. (Philippine News Agency)