Philippines’ ruling party strengthens ties with counterpart in Beijing

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Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, left, gestures to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as they prepare for their bilateral meeting following a welcome ceremony at Malacanang Palace grounds in Manila, Philippines, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Li is on an official visit to the country. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)

MANILA (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN Desk) – The Philippines’ ruling party has agreed to forge tighter ties with its counterpart in China, Senate leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said on Thursday, a day after hosting Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.

“Our discussion focused on how we can bring China and the Philippines closer together, not just through normal diplomatic channels, but also channels like a party to party and parliament to parliament”, said Pimentel, who is president of the ruling PDP-Laban.

“There is so much potential for cooperation between our countries,” he added.

Pimentel said he would represent PDP-Laban in talks with the Communist Party of China (CPC) and with the ruling parties of other major countries in Beijing this December.

The PDP-Laban last month signed a memorandum of understanding with Russia’s ruling United Russia party, which Pimentel hailed as “a historic moment”.

In his Wednesday meeting with Lee, both sides expressed keen interest in the Philippines playing a key role in China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, a plan to accelerate development around the world through trade and cooperation.

During the meeting, Li pledged that China will provide grants to help rebuild the city of Marawi and to enhance infrastructure development aimed at raising the Philippines’ industrial capacity.

Wednesday’s meeting came after an agreement last December for members of PDP-Laban to undergo “policy training” at the CPC school in Fujian, China.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who describes himself as a socialist, has expressed admiration for China since he assumed office last year and deferred pursuing the Philippine territorial dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea in exchange for infrastructure loans and investments from the Asian superpower.

On Wednesday he heaped praise on visiting Premier Li for what he said was China’s “critical” role in bringing an end to a five-month war with Islamist insurgents in the southern city of Marawi. Duterte credited China with supplying what he said was the rifle that on October 16 killed Islamic State’s regional point man, Isnilon Hapilon.

At last Friday’s APEC Summit, he told President Vladimir Putin something similar, saying Russia had “helped us turn the tide and to shorten the war” by supplying weapons used to kill militant snipers in Marawi.

Duterte, known for his strident anti-American rhetoric, has been forging military and economic ties with Russia and China in a tilt away from the Philippines’ Western ally.

At home, his popularity and position remain strong, despite controversy over his “drugs war” that has seen up to 12,000 Filipinos killed by police and death squads.

Since Duterte took office in June last year, PDP-Laban has entered into a coalition with most other parties to become the dominant political party with an overwhelming majority in Congress.

By Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN Desk