Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to visit to the Philippines by the end of this year in the latest sign of improved relations between the two sides, Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said.
Cayetano also said President Rodrigo Duterte has approved a proposal to form a group to study plans for the Philippines and China to conduct a joint exploration in the disputed South China Sea.
“We’re now fixing the date [of Xi’s visit]. We’re looking at the latter part of the year,” Cayetano was quoted as saying by Philippines GMA network. “Both sides wanted it to happen.”
The trip would be Xi’s first visit to the Philippines since Duterte came to power in 2016.
Cayetano did not say whether it would be a state or official visit for Xi, who was invited by Duterte to come to Manila during their meeting in Beijing when he was there for a state visit in October 2016.
“This has been an invitation from their first meeting. They accepted it right away. But we are finding the right time. When presidents at this level meet there are a lot of preparations and a lot of things that they want to announce,” Cayetano said.
Relations between China and the Philippines soured when Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino took their dispute over the South China Sea to an international tribunal in The Hague, which ruled against China’s claim.
But Duterte has since tried to mend ties with Beijing, while China has pledged to boost investment in the Philippines and donated military equipment such as guns and patrol boats.
Time running out for Duterte’s pursuit of warmer ties with China
However, the two sides’ long running dispute over the Spratly Islands, where China’s military build up has prompted frequent protests from Manila, remains unresolved.
In addition to the Philippines and mainland China, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have claims to the South China Sea.
Cayetano said Duterte had approved the formation of a group of experts from the government, academic and private sectors to study plans for a joint exploration of the disputed waters with China.
“Our job is to provide a framework acceptable to both the Philippines and China,” Cayetano said, adding the two countries were eyeing a draft within the next two months.