China says Philippine President Duterte to visit again in May as bilateral ties warm up

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (right) shaking hands with Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila on Jan 17, 2017.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (right) shaking hands with Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin at the Malacanang Presidential Palace in Manila on Jan 17, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will visit China in May to attend a multilateral summit, China's foreign ministry said on Thursday (Jan 19), his second visit to China since taking office as he seeks to further distance himself from Washington.

Mr Duterte has carried out a stunning U-turn in Philippines'foreign policy since assuming office last year, making overtures towards China while berating traditional ally the United States.

In a statement issued after Mr Duterte met China's Vice-Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin in Manila on Tuesday, the Chinese foreign ministry said Mr Duterte said he was pleased with how ties had developed since he came to China last year.

"I will come to Beijing in May to attend the 'One Belt, One Road' international cooperation summit forum, and I look forward to meeting President Xi Jinping again," the ministry paraphrased Mr Duterte as saying, without elaborating.

The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs said it could not immediately confirm the comments were made as no ministry officials were present at the meeting.

Both sides agreed that territorial disputes in the South China Sea were a “small part” of bilateral relations and to set up a bilateral consultation mechanism to deal with issues that arise in the region, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday at a regular press briefing.

China has given few details about the summit, but diplomatic sources in Beijing say the government is expected to invite a large number of foreign leaders to attend.

China has dubbed a series of infrastructure projects stretching across some 60 countries as the "One Belt, One Road"initiative, based upon resurrecting the old Silk Road that once connected China with Central Asia, Europe and beyond.

Mr Duterte reiterated last month he wanted to avoid confrontation with China and saw no need to press Beijing to abide by a July ruling on China's claims in the disputed South China Sea that went in favour of the Philippines.