What Xi did and didn’t give Duterte

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to the Philippines heralded a new ‘strategic partnership’ but failed to deliver vowed billions of dollars of aid and investment

Chinese President Xi Jinping concluded today a landmark visit to the Philippines, a two-day tour that aimed to underscore the notion that Beijing is the region’s partner of choice for trade and development.

But the Chinese leader’s highly anticipated visit fell short on several fronts, including on a previous pledge to provide as much as US$24 billion in official aid and private investment for mega-projects, raising questions about Beijing’s true commitment to the Southeast Asian nation.

The trip came at a crucial juncture for both nations, with Xi under rising pressure from an escalating trade war with the US, and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte under opposition fire for compromising national interests in alleged blind pursuit of warmer ties with Beijing.

An agreement reached to upgrade strategic ties marked a major diplomatic victory for China’s leader, whose foreign policy assertiveness, including in the contested South China Sea, is coming under rising fire.

At the same time, Duterte, who has staked his self-proclaimed “independent” foreign policy on developing stronger relations with Beijing while simultaneously downgrading ties to Washington, was eager to reap demonstrable rewards for his engagement gambit.

Amid much fanfare, the two sides agreed to elevate bilateral relations into a full “strategic partnership.” Beijing clearly hopes the upgrade in ties will dissuade Manila from providing any major assistance to America’s efforts to constrain China’s maritime ambitions, namely in the contested South China Sea.

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