Duterte: Despite sea row, PH 'at best level' of ties with China

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President Rodrigo Duterte (file photo)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 29) — President Rodrigo Duterte says now is the most opportune time for the country to ramp up trade with China as relationship between Manila and Beijing is at its peak.

Duterte, who graced the People's Day event in Oriental Mindoro on Wednesday, recalled how relationship between the two countries turned sour when the previous administration took the South China Sea row to The Hague.

"Nagalit siya (President Xi) kay Aquino, and they hated Aquino and for the rest of his term, hindi tayo pinapansin," said Duterte, who just turned 72 the day before. [This got the ire of Xi and they hated Aquino for the rest of his term.]

After that, Duterte said, it became difficult for Philippine products to enter China.

Duterte in Or. Mindoro.jpg President Rody Duterte back to work a day after his 72nd birthday.  

So when he visited Beijing, Duterte said he told President Xi Jinping one thing.

"I come here. I am not asking for anything. I only want to have trade and commerce with you," Duterte recounted. "Sabi ko, wala akong kasali diyan sa giyera-giyera. Ako gusto ko lang makipag-kaibigan [I did not have any hand in those disputes, I just want to make friends with you]."

He said from then on, things began to improve.

"We are at our best level of friendship with China after I went there," Duterte said. "So, ngayon, we are back at full normal, 100 percent na tayo sa banana, pati sa pineapple. Pineapple is hitting again 70 percent," Duterte said, while acknowledging the kindness and generosity of Xi and China. [Our relationship with China has fully returned to normal. Our banana export is hitting a hundred percent, with pineapple at 70%.]

"Now, I'd like to hurry you up because sabi ng China, kung ano ang nasa inyo diyan, bibilhin namin lahat [China promised to buy everything we could export to them]," Duterte urged farmers to make the most out of the window of opportunity given to local produce.

Related: PH, China to start maritime row talks in May

However, he said he had made it clear that the Philippines was not abandoning its maritime claims, and told Xi that there would come a time that he would be bringing up the matter — and the Chinese president agreed.

Upon returning from his Beijing trip, Duterte pointed out when that time would be.

"When they start to excavate or whatever there is in the bowels of the sea, tapos may pera na, katokin ko sila, 'Tao po. Ang amin. Paano na lang ito?' Iyan, that's about the time."

[Translation: I would knock on their doors when they start digging and turning profits there, and ask, "What about my country's share?"]

Duterte confronts U.S. envoy over S. China's Sea activities

The President also recounted how he met with U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, who visited him in Davao City the day before his birthday.

Duterte said he had asked Kim why America didn't act right away when news broke out that China was building structures in the Spratlys.

"Why did you not send the armada of the Seventh Fleet which is stationed there in the Pacific to just make a u-turn and go there and tell them right on there face, 'Stop it'?

Duterte said the ambassador told him he was assigned to North Korea during those times and had jested that his hair had turned gray because of Kim Jong-Un.