Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Photo: Reuters, Thomas Peter

Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Thursday that he hoped the “milestone” visit to China by his Philippine counterpart could help “fully improve” ties between the two countries, which have suffered over disputes in the South China Sea.

President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Beijing on Tuesday with at least 200 top Philippine business people to pave the way for what he calls a new commercial alliance, amid deteriorating relations with longtime ally the United States.

The effort to engage China, months after a Hague ruling over South China Sea disputes in favor of the Philippines, marks a reversal in Philippine foreign policy since Duterte took office on June 30.

Xi told Duterte during a meeting at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People that China and the Philippines are brothers and that the two sides could appropriately handle disputes, though he did not specifically mention the South China Sea row.

Duterte pressed his message that he wished to improve cooperation with China, saying the roots of the two countries’ bonds could not be easily severed and that it was a “springtime” in relations.

Duterte’s congenial tone in Beijing is in contrast to the language he has used with long-time ally Washington, having called US President Barack Obama a “son of a bitch”, and railed against US criticism of his war on drugs, which has led to the deaths of 2,300 people.

China has welcomed the Philippines’ policy shift, even as Duterte has vowed not to surrender any sovereignty to Beijing, which views the South China Sea maritime ruling as null and void.

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