January 17, 2017 / 6:17 AM / 2 years ago

Top Chinese official to meet Philippines' Duterte

MANILA (Reuters) - Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte will meet on Tuesday with China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, the most high-profile Chinese visitor since he took power last year and launched surprise moves to engage with historic rival Beijing.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the Philippines' ASEAN Chairmanship launch at SMX Convention Center in Davao city, southern Philippines January 15, 2017. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr

Duterte will meet Liu late in the day in what presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said was nothing more than a courtesy call.

Liu was meeting foreign ministry counterparts to discuss the “substantive issues of our bilateral arrangements,” Abella said in a text message.

The visit comes just a few days after that of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, as China and Japan vie for influence and opportunities in the Philippines as it earmarks record budgets for a major overhaul of its dilapidated infrastructure.,

Duterte has turned Philippine foreign policy upside down, showing disdain for traditional ally the United States and openness towards China, setting aside years of mistrust from a long-running dispute about the South China Sea.

The maverick former mayor has frequently praised Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping and put issues of maritime sovereignty on the back burner to foster better business ties with Beijing.

The Philippines Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay on Monday said a protest note had been sent to China’s embassy a few weeks ago over its apparent arms buildup on manmade islands in the South China Sea. Yasay said the issue was being handled carefully so not to cause tensions.

Reporting by Martin Petty and Karen Lema; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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