Duterte Comments on Hong Kong in Xi Jinping Meeting, Xi Still Silent

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 opening ceremony at the Beijing National Aquatics Center or Water Cube on 30 August 2019 in Beijing, China. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG - Pool/Getty Images)
HOW HWEE YOUNG - Getty Images

Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte reportedly told Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping that he “respects the rule of law” with regard to Hong Kong in a meeting Friday.

Duterte is currently in Beijing to discuss business ties with Xi. His spokesman, Salvador Panelo, told reporters what Duterte had said.

At press time, Xi Jinping has made no public comments about the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, which enters its thirteenth week this weekend. Xi Jinping is legally the “president” of Hong Kong, but exercises more power with two others of his plentiful titles: commander-in-chief of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and chairman of the Communist Party. Duterte has no political ties to Hong Kong.

“We respect the rule of law. That’s what the president said and the president of China appreciates that statement,” presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters on Friday following a bilateral meeting between Duterte and Xi on Thursday evening.

Chinese state-run propaganda outlet Xinhua reported on Friday that Duterte told Xi that the “Philippines fully respects China’s laws and the right to maintain law-based governance on the Hong Kong issue.”

Duterte has pivoted his country’s foreign policy away from the United States and towards China. Over recent years, he has aggressively courted Chinese trade, support, and investment, even joking about turning the Philippines into a Chinese province.

During their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing on Thursday, Xi pledged to strengthen relations between China and the Philippines but did not comment on the ongoing situation in Hong Kong.

“Under the two sides’ joint efforts, bilateral ties smoothly realized taking an upturn and scoring consolidation and uplift, and continuously achieved tangible outcomes, during President Duterte’s administration over the past three years,” said Xi. “At present, the international and regional situations are undergoing profound and complex changes. However, peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit are still an irresistible trend of the times.”

Xinhua reported that Duterte responded by “pledging to meet with Xi frequently, strengthen communication, and jointly promote the sound development of the two countries’ ties so as to achieve win-win benefits.”

“Duterte expressed his hope that China will continue to help the Philippines in economic development and infrastructure construction, and thanked China for support in his country’s human rights cause, post-quake reconstruction, and anti-terrorism and anti-narcotics endeavors,” the outlet reported.

One point of contention between the two sides remains China’s illegal claims to the South China Sea. Duterte has warned that he is willing to “go to war” to protect his country’s claims over the territory amid widespread public discontent at his lack of resolve on the matter.

The two leaders discussed the issue of the South China Sea, where Xi refused to recognize the ruling of an international tribunal rejecting Beijing’s extensive claims over the regime. However, his spokesperson confirmed that the pair agreed to work together to “manage” the issue and recognized “the importance of self-restraint and respect for freedom of navigation in — and overflight above — the South China Sea.”

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