China and the Philippines have agreed on $3.7 billion worth of projects to boost cooperation, state media cited a senior Chinese official as saying, highlighting the improvement in their formerly frosty relations.
Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said after a Monday meeting with a Cabinet delegation from the Philippines that the projects are aimed at “improving people’s living standards,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
No specific details on the projects were released, though Xinhua cites Gao as saying a formal agreement on how to implement the projects would be signed before the Philippine delegation left Beijing.
Under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office in June, the Asian neighbors have seen ties that had been tense over longstanding South China Sea territorial disputes undergo rapid improvement.
Duterte visited Beijing in October, during which he repeatedly criticized former colonial power and traditional ally the United States, while praising China as an Asian nation that respects Philippine sovereignty, shared its values and understood its development needs. Philippine officials said during the visit that the two sides would sign $13.5 billion of deals and that Xi had committed more than $9 billion in low-interest loans to the country.
Duterte is planning another China trip in May to attend an international conference on China’s project to revitalize the ancient Silk Road trade routes through vast investments in infrastructure.
Tensions ran high last year after the Philippines won an arbitration ruling in July declaring China’s maritime claims in the South China Sea invalid. China has refused to recognize the arbitration decision and has warned the United States and other countries not involved in the territorial row not to meddle in the disputes, which Beijing wants to settle through one-on-one negotiations.
In seeking to improve ties, Duterte has largely avoided mentioning the ruling and expressed his desire cooperate with China on projects in the area.
Still, the Philippine foreign secretary recently filed a rare verbal protest to China over Beijing’s placing of anti-aircraft and anti-missile weapons on its man-made islands in the South China Sea.
Beijing says the artificial islands are intended to boost maritime safety in the region while downplaying their military utility. They also buttress China’s claim to ownership of practically the entire South China Sea.
The two sides on Monday also agreed to a “speedy resumption” of a dialogue on economic and trade cooperation, according to China Daily, a state-run newspaper. That and other bilateral talks had been frozen since 2012 amid rising tensions.