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Economy

China proposes long-term economic cooperation with Philippines

China's premier hails warming ties between the former maritime foes

MANILA -- Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday pitched a long-term economic cooperation plan with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to cement the "positive turnaround" in diplomatic relations between the former maritime rivals.

Li, who was in Manila for an official visit, pointed to the economic benefits the Philippines has reaped since diplomatic ties improved a year ago. He specifically cited greater agricultural trade and tourism. China previously banned Philippine banana imports and discouraged its citizens from visiting the country. 

Both leaders also discussed in detail infrastructure development in the Philippines, Li said.

"My suggestion is that our two sides will sit down together to discuss and formulate cooperation plans in these areas, lasting for the next five or even 10 years to take forward our cooperation in these specific fields," said Li, who was speaking next to Duterte at a press conference at the Malacanang presidential palace marking the end of his visit.

The long-term cooperation plan should send a "message to the people of two countries, as well as to the international community that the China-Philippines relationship will continuously go forward and the people-to-people relationship between us will be strengthened."

Duterte pivoted to China when he assumed the presidency last year, and set aside a long-standing maritime dispute with Beijing over parts of the South China Sea. His visit to Beijing in October last year yielded at least $24 billion in economic deals.   

Li and Duterte did not mention the South China Sea territorial dispute on Wednesday. Instead, both leaders signed 14 agreements covering mostly economic and defense cooperation. Li said China will extend 150 million yuan ($22.6 million) in grants to rebuild the war-torn southern city of Marawi.

Li, China's representative at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit early this week in Manila and the first Chinese premier to visit the Philippines in 10 years, hailed the marked improvement in ties between the two countries.

"Winter has to come to the Northern Hemisphere but the temperature in Manila is still running pretty high," he said. "I think that somewhat reflects the temperature of China-Philippine relations, which is also going pretty high on the basis of the positive improvement of the two countries."

Duterte said he was pleased with the economic gains the renewed ties have brought. "Practical cooperation in many areas is bringing in an early harvest of tangible benefits," he said. 

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