China offered fresh praise for visiting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday, lauding “friendly” relations as the combative leader reconfigures his country’s diplomatic alliances.
Duterte is in China for a four-day trip that is expected to cement his tilt away from Washington and towards Beijing’s sphere of influence.
Foreign policy under Duterte has dramatically shifted from that pursued under predecessor Benigno Aquino, who took Beijing to an international tribunal over its extensive claims in the South China Sea and won a resounding victory.
The move infuriated Beijing but Duterte, who took office in June shortly before the tribunal ruling, has made a point of not flaunting the outcome.
At a regular briefing Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing was pleased to move towards resolving the territorial dispute “through consultation and dialogue”.
“This is how two friendly neighbours should treat each other,” she added.
“Anyone who truly wishes for peace, stability, development and prosperity in the Asia Pacific” should welcome Duterte’s visit.
Duterte will meet top leaders including President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during his stay, and was also due to meet members of the Filipino community in Beijing later Wednesday.
On the eve of his arrival in Beijing, the firebrand former lawyer was quoted by China’s official Xinhua news agency state media saying: “Only China can help us.”
As Duterte has cosied up to Beijing, he has repeatedly denounced the US and President Barack Obama for criticising his deadly war on crime.
He has also suspended joint US-Philippine patrols in the South China Sea, and has threatened an end to joint military exercises.
The South China Sea is of intense interest to Washington and it has repeatedly spoken out on the various territorial disputes between China and its neighbours over the strategically vital waters.
Tensions have risen between the US and China over Washington’s so-called “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific, a move that Beijing says is intended to contain it.
In an editorial Wednesday, China’s nationalist Global Times newspaper said Washington had treated Manila “as a pawn”, adding Duterte was now “redesigning Philippine foreign policy based on Philippine interests”.
Duterte has said his China trip will focus on promoting economic ties.
The Philippines is hoping, among other things, that Beijing will repeal a ban on imports of its bananas — an economic sanction intended to punish Manila for its South China Sea stance.
Hua said Wednesday announcements on infrastructure cooperation and economic development projects could be expected during the Philippine leader’s visit.
Beijing has also enthusiastically endorsed Duterte’s war on drugs, which has seen more than 3,700 people killed and led the International Criminal Court to warn that those responsible could face charges.
Hua praised Duterte Wednesday for “rolling out policies to ensure social order and public security”, adding that the two sides were already in close communication about cooperating on drug control and anti-crime issues.