Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (File photo: Agencies)
Just four months since he last visited, Rodrigo Duterte is paying his fifth visit to China since he became Philippine president three years ago.
In addition to the high-profile arrangements for his visit — meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang — basketball also features prominently on his itinerary.
On Friday, he will attend the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup opening ceremony in Beijing with President Xi. Then he will watch a game in Guangdong province — possibly the one featuring the Philippines and Italy on Saturday evening in Foshan — accompanied by Vice-President Wang Qishan.
The basketball diplomacy highlights the friendly relations Beijing and Manila have cultivated since Duterte took office. For all the speculation about the two countries' territorial dispute in the South China Sea being a potentially frost-inducing item on Duterte's agenda, there is every reason for both parties to make sure his visit is constructive and fruitful.
If the 13 agreements on bilateral cooperation crowning his first official visit to China in October 2016 were a rewarding ice-breaking start to the new era of bilateral relations, the latest programs under the frameworks of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative and his country's "Build, Build, Build" campaign represent a higher level of mutually beneficial cooperation.
Manila's infrastructure program put forward in 2017, which focuses on such large-scale projects as railways, highways, airports, and seaports, can dovetail seamlessly with the Belt and Road Initiative's connectivity ambitions. The two sides have already signed cooperation documents on three major railway projects in the Philippines. Five more cooperation agreements, covering trade, border control and infrastructure construction, will reportedly be signed during Duterte's visit this time.
The Philippine leader has proven to be a pragmatic and open-eyed statesman — who would have imagined before he took office that China would soon become his country's No 1 trading partner, export market, source of imports, and foreign investor — and he has pledged to take full advantage of the opportunities the initiative presents to realize his country's development goals.
The flourishing cooperation demonstrates the resilience of the two countries' relationship, which has been quickly revived after the cryonic actions of Duterte's predecessor, and shows the two sides can manage their differences through dialogue, despite attempts by third parties to drive a wedge between them by hyping up the territorial dispute.
Despite these divisive efforts, Beijing and Manila continue to work together to consolidate stable, constructive relations.