Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the opening of the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Annual Conference 2018 in Boao, south China's Hainan province. Image Credit: AFP

Manila: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday admitted the bilateral relationship between Manila and Beijing was becoming increasingly complex, but said this should not prevent the two countries from working together on common interests.

Duterte was speaking during the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) in China’s Hainan.

“Bilaterally, the Philippines is showing how complex relations are not a bar to positive and mutually beneficial engagement,” Duterte said.

Vowing to increase engagement with the countries in Asia — while reiterating the close relationship between Manila and Beijing in combatting criminality and extremism — Duterte on Tuesday said it was time for the region to increase cooperation in order to go forward.

“We will continue our efforts to broaden and deepen our economic engagement and cooperation with our friends and neighbours. We must harness the potential for shared growth in our region and beyond,” he said.

Since taking up office, Duterte has taken a path of further improving ties with China contrary to his predecessors’ stance of standing up to the Asian power.

The president has said he believes that confrontation is not the way to go with its relations with its increasingly powerful and aggressive northern neighbour.

He has received Beijing’s financial assistance and donations such as firearms to combat terrorism, but at the cost of waning ties with Manila’s traditional ally, the United States.

Manila has repeatedly aired concerns over China’s increasingly bold actions in the South China Sea where it has reclaimed outlying islands and built up military structures such as airfields, radar and missile sites and other similar defensive installations.

On Tuesday, Duterte said his administration was resolute in its stand with China in waging the war on criminality and the illegal drug trade.

“We are shoulder to shoulder in the fight against terrorism and violent extremism. Make no mistake: there can be no progress without stability in Asia’s lands and waters,” he said.

To achieve growth together with the Asian neighbours, Duterte said his administration is committed to improving the business climate for China.

“As sovereign equals, the Philippines and China are partners in the building of much-needed infrastructure We are bridging bridges of greater understanding between our peoples. We are working together on strengthening economic complementarities. We are strengthening the policy framework for businesses to thrive,” he added, vowing not to tolerate corruption in his administration.

Duterte said his administration has ambitious goals, as he underscored plans to spend five to seven per cent of the country’s GDP on infrastructure.

Duterte said his flagship programme, dubbed “Build, Build, Build”, is expected to provide a solid backbone for growth and will upgrade infrastructure, connect more people and communities, and create more jobs.

The president said his administration is investing on innovation, particularly on science and technology and human development.

“With greater access to technology and financing, we will apply Science, Technology and Innovation in agriculture and the service industries. We will invest in improving research and development and intensify international cooperation in this area. We are willing to learn from others,” he said.

“Let me say it again today: the Philippines’ destiny is in Asia. The Philippines is ready to work with all nations in the region who seek friendship and cooperation,” he said.