Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the Philippines from Tuesday to Wednesday has caught international attention.
China-Philippines relations have been one of the most vacillating connections among China and its neighboring countries. During the rule of Benigno Aquino III, bilateral relations were at a low ebb due to frictions over the South China Sea. Incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte changed the Philippines' diplomatic course and brought ties with China back to the right track.
Last year, China surpassed Japan and became the largest trading partner of the Philippines. The two are conducting negotiations over the possible joint exploration of oil and gas in the disputed waters. If they reach an agreement, it could serve as an exemplary model for South China Sea claimant countries.
However, not everybody is happy to see Beijing and Manila set aside disputes and develop friendly ties. Besides obstruction from pro-US factions within the Philippines, some US and Western forces do not want to see rapprochement between China and the Philippines and even pressure the Duterte government to cut relations.
Recently, some Western media claimed that most of the assistance and investment that China promised to the Philippines was never fulfilled. Such tone maliciously aims to drive a wedge between Beijing and Manila.
In recent years, China has been advancing its Belt and Road initiative in Southeast Asia and has no reason to skip the Philippines when seeking investment and cooperation. In fact, relevant departments of the two countries have been working to push forward the implementation of cooperation projects.
The West has been accusing China's Belt and Road initiative of locking some countries into a debt trap. However, when it comes to the Philippines, the West criticized China for not fulfilling its promises. Behind such hypocritical words lie the West's deep-seated prejudice and hostility against China.
When the US strategically targets China, it is difficult for the Philippines - geographically adjacent to China while closely watched by the US - to keep independent strategic thinking and remain firm-minded.
But independent thinking and strong political determination are essential for every country. When Duterte first thought about mending ties with Beijing, independent thinking prompted Manila to face the question: What advantages can the country gain from enmity with China, if any? Will the Philippines benefit from it or will it be exploited by external forces?
The whole region should keep alert to whom will benefit from confrontation among South China Sea stakeholders. As one of the US' allies in Southeast Asia, the Philippines will always be a tool of the West to instigate provocations in the waters. After twists and turns, Philippine society will form its own judgment.
Many Philippine elite might have thought that their country and the entirety of Southeast Asia could rely only on the US and the West before China's rise, yet most regional countries did not achieve modernization. China offers more options for the Philippines, and because of China's rise, the Philippines and Southeast Asia have gained more attention. Compared with the Aquino era, the Philippines under Duterte has acquired more strategic initiatives without becoming overly dependent on other countries.
China-Philippines friendly cooperation has changed the strategic position of the Philippines and brought about a new pattern for its development. It is expected that Xi's visit will accelerate bilateral cooperation.