Duterte said it was important for the Philippines to maintain a good relationship with China. Photo: Government of the Philippines

Filipino President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, together with members of his delegation, met representatives from more than 355 Filipino community organizations at the Regal Airport Hotel in Hong Kong on Saturday during a working visit to the city.

As of March 2017, some 16,000 Filipinos are Hong Kong residents. The city also has around 193,000 overseas domestic workers from the Philippines. Most of the community organizations are composed of overseas workers.

Duterte said in his speech that it was important to maintain good relations with China and that he was glad to be invited to join the One Belt, One Road summit, which opened in Beijing on Sunday.

“We are a friend of the Americans… but I need to think of our country first,” he said, adding that the Philippines had suffered due to a suspension of exports of its bananas and pineapples to China from May 2012 until October 2016, due to the South China Sea sovereignty dispute between Beijing and Manila.

He said it would be improper to bring this dispute up during his meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing. He would only talk about trade and economic operation with the Chinese government, he added.

In May 2012, China announced it was suspending its import of bananas and pineapples from the Philippines after military ships from the two countries had a stand-off in the South China Sea region. In July last year, an International Court of Justice tribunal ruled there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the disputed waters of the South China Sea or their resources. China said it would not accept the ruling but resumed its imports of fruit from the Philippines after the latter agreed to set its sovereignty claims aside. 

During the Saturday meeting with Filipinos in Hong Kong, Duterte joined a female singer on stage for a song. He also met representatives from The Philippine Association of Hong Kong (PAHK), which was found in 1961 and aims to serve the Filipino professionals in Hong Kong.

In a media briefing in Hong Kong on Saturday, Duterte was asked by a journalist whether the Philippines was in discussions with China about sending domestic workers there. He said the Philippines’ Department of Labor was handling the issue but there were no details to release yet.

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