March 23, 2018 / 11:02 AM / a month ago

New Chinese VP makes low key debut with Philippines meeting

BEIJING, March 23 (Reuters) - China’s new vice president, a close ally of President Xi Jinping, on Friday made his first appearance on the political scene since taking up the job a week ago, in a relatively low-key meeting with the Philippines’ top diplomat.

Vice President Wang Qishan, China’s former chief graft-buster, is expected to have dealing with the Trump administration as a major focus of his portfolio as ties with Washington nosedive, diplomatic sources say.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans for tariffs on up to $60 billion in Chinese goods have brought the world’s two largest economies closer to a trade war.

But Wang’s first task was the Philippines.

Meeting Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano at the Zhongnanhai central leadership compound in Beijing, Wang said the Philippines was a traditionally friendly neighbour of China’s, state media said.

In the new year both countries should continue to meet each other halfway, deepen cooperation and handle disputes appropriately, Wang added.

Cayetano has been in China to discuss possible joint oil and gas exploration in the disputed South China Sea.

China claims most of the South China Sea, a key trade route and home to areas that are believed to hold large quantities of oil and natural gas. Along with China, parts of the South China Sea are subject to competing claims from Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

The Philippines’ ties with China have warmed under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has put aside territorial disputes in exchange for trade opportunities and pledged financing for infrastructure projects.

Duterte is visiting China next month to attend the Boao economic forum on the southern island province of Hainan and will meet Xi.

Whether Xi could retain Wang in a senior role despite his reaching retirement age had been seen as a key measure of Xi’s power and the subject of intense interest in the lead-up to this month’s parliament, which approved his new role last weekend.

In January, Wang, who turns 70 in July, was named a parliament delegate with the central province of Hunan despite having stepped down from the elite seven-man Politburo Standing Committee during a five-yearly leadership transition in October. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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