Philippines, China sign framework energy deal

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport in suburban Pasay city southeast of Manila Philippines Tuesday Nov. 20 2018. Xi visited the Philippines for the first time to deepen ties with America's ally

On Tuesday, President Xi started his official state visit to the Philippines at the invitation of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Al Jazeera's Jamela Alindogan reports from Manila.

The two sides signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) alongside 28 deals related to basic education, agricultural cooperatives and infrastructure projects at a meeting between visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte.

Xi said he and Duterte would elevate their relationship to one of "comprehensive strategic cooperation", adding that they had many common interests in the South China Sea, and would continue to "manage contentious issues".

Many ordinary Filipinos as well as global lawyers and diplomats are incensed by Duterte's refusal to even raise with China the Permanent Court of Arbitration's (PCA) 2016 award that ruled in the Philippines' favour, and invalidated Beijing's claim to most of the South China Sea.

The protesters carried placards reading, "No to China's debt trap", "Philippines is not for sale", and "China, get out!"

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Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) secretary Teodoro Locsin Jnr on Twitter suggested no deal was imminent, but he also added that any agreement could be signed with the Department of Energy and Department of Justice.

The two leaders likewise discussed cooperation on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi, which was the site of a bloody siege by the Daesh-inspired Maute Group, and the Philippines' participation in China's Belt and Road Initiative. Few projects in the first batch of $24 billion have gotten off the ground, including a previous $780 million proposal to raise three islands from a waterlogged area of Duterte's hometown, which was canceled a year ago after being found not commercially viable. "We're very optimistic that this will put pressure on their bureaucracy to speed up the process".

He said China and the Philippines are ready to open a new page in bilateral relations.

The Chinese flag instead of the Philippine presidential flag was carried by an honor guard when Xi and Duterte reviewed the troops during the welcome ceremony in Malacañang. Southeast Asian nations Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have overlapping claims on the waters.

"The Philippines should not waive our sovereign rights as affirmed by the arbitral ruling", said Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has made extensive studies on the territorial conflicts. The costs of the deals with Beijing are "really reasonable or better than the others", he said. The MoU was much debated prior to Xi's visit, especially after a Duterte critic leaked a supposed draft.

A clever way for China to prevent the United States from extending its influence into the South China Sea in the name of defending the freedom of navigation is to conclude bilateral or multilateral agreements with all countries which have territorial claims in the disputed waters.

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At ASEAN, Duterte had called on the U.S.to stop military drills near disputed areas, saying China is already "in possession" of it. Pence last week said the US supports a "free and open" Indo-Pacific and "will continue to sail and fly wherever global law allows and our national interests demand".

"We consider the question skewed as it misleads the public to believe and suggests that the current government has not acted on China's activities on the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea".

All these fruitful outcomes have been possible due to the two sides' reengagement in consultation and dialogue in handling the South China issue.

The heated disagreement meant no statement was issued at the end of the meeting for the first time in its 25-year history.

He hoped that this document will inspire other countries to seek energy development in the region.

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