January 19, 2017 / 6:03 AM / 7 months ago

China says Philippines' Duterte to visit again as ties warm up

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during the Philippines' ASEAN Chairmanship launch at SMX Convention Center in Davao city, southern Philippines January 15, 2017.Lean Daval Jr - RTSVKW9

BEIJING (Reuters) - Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will visit China in May to attend a multilateral summit, China's foreign ministry said on Thursday, making his second visit to Beijing since taking office as he seeks to further distance himself from Washington.

Duterte has carried out a stunning U-turn in Philippines' foreign policy since assuming office last year, making overtures towards China while berating traditional ally the United States.

In a statement issued after Duterte met China's Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin in Manila on Tuesday, the Chinese foreign ministry said Duterte said he was pleased with how ties had developed since he came to China last year.

"I will come to Beijing in May to attend the 'One Belt, One Road' international cooperation summit forum, and I look forward to meeting President Xi Jinping again," the ministry paraphrased Duterte as saying, without elaborating.

The Philippines Department of Foreign Affairs said it could not immediately confirm the comments were made as no ministry officials were present at the meeting.

Both sides agreed that territorial disputes in the South China Sea were a "small part" of bilateral relations and to set up a bilateral consultation mechanism to deal with issues that arise in the region, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Thursday at a regular press briefing.

China has given few details about the summit, but diplomatic sources in Beijing say the government is expected to invite a large number of foreign leaders to attend.

China has dubbed a series of infrastructure projects stretching across some 60 countries as the "One Belt, One Road" initiative, based upon resurrecting the old Silk Road that once connected China with Central Asia, Europe and beyond.

Duterte reiterated last month he wanted to avoid confrontation with China and saw no need to press Beijing to abide by a July ruling on China's claims in the disputed South China Sea that went in favour of the Philippines.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Martin Petty in Manila; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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