Duterte, Xi to have ‘friendly, honest’ talks: Sta. Romana

BEIJING — Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana said President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping have already developed friendship and rapport for the two leaders to have a friendly and honest discussion on the disputed waters.

Duterte and Xi are set to meet for the eighth time Thursday evening in Beijing.

Sta. Romana said Duterte included in his diplomatic agenda sensitive issues such as the West Philippine Sea and the arbitration award.

“I think the President has made it clear that from his point of view the time has come. I think the first three years he has exerted a lot of the diplomatic capital to build a reservoir of goodwill and friendship with President Xi,” he said.

“[H]e is not coming here to impose it on China. He is not coming here to provoke the Chinese. He is coming here to exchange views, to understand where the differences lie. And to have a deeper understanding, and to see where there are areas where the gaps can be bridged,” the envoy added.

He said with the previous meetings between the two leaders, the Chinese government has been reassured that the Philippines will move forward in a friendly and cooperative manner.

“He (Duterte) is here to build bridges, not to burn bridges with China,” Sta. Romana stressed.

“President Xi, I think, has a good measure of the President. So I think he expects an honest discussion, direct but friendly — in a friendly and cordial atmosphere,” he added.

Recently, the owner of the Chinese ship that was involved in the incident with a Filipino fishing boat in the Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea has made a public apology.

“The issuance of the public apology by the ship owner is a welcome development. It helps clear the air for the bilateral talks that will happen tonight,” Sta. Romana said.

He also mentioned that Chinese fisheries officials also expressed a verbal apology and gave a verbal report, which the embassy here transmitted to authorities.

“This apology, of course, represents the ship owner. But in a sense, I think through diplomatic discussions with the Chinese side, we have made it clear that this had a negative impact, had an adverse impact on the bilateral relations particularly on China’s image,” the envoy said.

“And that one way to correct this was through what you’ve seen: the public explanation, the investigation, and the apology,” he added.

Sta. Romana said the Philippine government welcomes this apology from the Chinese side, but it will be the fishermen involved in the incident who will acknowledge the apology.  Kris Crismundo / PNA – northboundasia.com