Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will take around 250 business delegates on his visit to Beijing next week as he seeks closer ties with China. He is thought to have set aside differences between the two countries over the South China Sea dispute.
The new partnership with China comes at a time when Duterte has said he wants to shift focus away from the US, a long-time ally of the Philippines, as tensions mount over the Filipino president's sustained tirade against US President Barack Obama and his administration.
While there has been no official announcement about the delegation, it is reported that the executives wishing to join Duterte on his visit have exceeded the number the officials had expected for registration. Reuters reported that only 24 Filipino entrepreneurs were initially assigned to accompany Duterte but the number has now risen to 250.
Filipino business and officials are reportedly excited at the prospects of meeting Chinese delegates and hold talks on a range of sectors including rail, tourism, construction, agribusiness, power and manufacturing.
"I understand there are 100 more wanting to go," Trade Undersecretary Nora Terrado told Reuters. She said the size of the delegation is unusual given that both the countries agreed on the visit only about a month ago.
According to a tentative programme during Duterte's visit from 19 to 21 October, day one is likely to see discussions between officials from both the sides. On day two, Duterte and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping are expected to address about 600 business executives from Chinese and Filipino private companies.
As per reports, the trip would set aside several years of enmity with China, especially over the territorial dispute in the South China Sea. The Philippines filed a case against Beijing at the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in July challenging China's sweeping claims in the waters. The court ruled in favour of Manila saying Beijing had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights.
But since the ruling, Duterte insisted on having a peaceful resolution and even shied away from celebrating the victory on a large scale in a bid to not irk Beijing despite having the support of Washington.
China is yet to officially confirm Duterte's visit but its foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing on Tuesday (11 October) that both the countries have been in close contact and hope to improve ties.