By Martin Petty
MANILA (Reuters) – Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in the Philippines for a state visit on Tuesday, aiming to advance strategic gains made under a Manila leadership that has favored Beijing in the hope of receiving billions of dollars of loans and investment.
Xi’s visit comes two years after Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte declared he was reorienting his foreign policy away from the United States and toward China, despite decades of mistrust and bitter maritime disputes with Beijing.
In a commentary in Monday’s Philippine Star newspaper, Xi praised Duterte and described ties as being “a rainbow after the rain” and repeatedly called for the “proper handling” of rows over the South China Sea.
But Duterte’s style of handling has frustrated nationalists, who say he has been submissive in refusing to criticize China’s military buildup, or seek its compliance with a 2016 arbitration award that invalidated its claim to almost the entire waterway.
Public opinion is largely supportive of Duterte’s presidency but surveys consistently show reservations about his China policy and disdain for the United States.
A Social Weather Stations survey released late on Monday showed 84 percent of Filipinos felt it was wrong not to oppose China’s militarization of its manmade islands, and 86 percent believed it was right to strengthen the Philippine military, especially the navy.
The poll of 1,200 people conducted in late September also showed trust in the United States remained “very good”, but China was considered “poor”.