In China, Philippine President Duterte likely to raise concerns over South China Sea

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte leaves for a four-day visit to China today, where he will hold talks with senior officials,

duterte china

Photo: Malacañang

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte leaves for a four-day visit to China today, where he will hold talks with senior officials, including President Xi Jinping and Vice President Wang Qishan.

This is Mr Duterte’s fifth visit to Beijing since assuming the presidency in 2016 but could be his most awkward trip yet. The Philippines leader intends to raise the South China Sea dispute, specifically a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling that dismissed China’s expansive claims to the contested waters. Beijing rejects the ruling.

Mr Duterte has previously been reluctant to raise the issue in an attempt to keep relations cordial and Chinese investment flowing. However, an incident on June 9 that saw a Chinese vessel ram a Philippine fishing boat near Reed Bank—classified Philippine territory under the PCA ruling—has increased domestic pressure on Mr Duterte to discuss the ruling.

While Mr Duterte will almost certainly mention the territorial dispute to mollify voters, he is unlikely to be assertive behind closed doors. China has invested some $24 billion on more than 25 key infrastructure projects that are vital to Mr Duterte’s “build, build, build” policy. The president will not want to jeopardise this aim by annoying China’s leadership, which is unlikely to cede any ground on the issue at a time when Beijing’s regional clout is rising.

Wake up smarter with an assessment of the stories that will make headlines in the next 24 hours. Download The Daily Brief.