Philippine officials and scholars said they are looking forward to stronger relations and more substantive cooperation with China following Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “successful and highly productive” visit to China recently.

Duterte wrapped up his five-day visit to China on Sunday, which is also his fifth since he assumed the presidency in June 2016.

During a bilateral meeting on Thursday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told his Philippine counterpart that he is willing to work with Duterte to continue to grasp the trend of the times from a strategic and long-term perspective, leading the sound development of bilateral ties.

“This will not only benefit the two countries and their peoples but will also add positive energy to regional peace and stability.”

Describing Duterte’s visit as “successful and highly productive,” Philippine presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said this visit is “a reflection of continued good faith and warm friendship between the two presidents, and undoubtedly, a testament to the enhanced and enduring bond between the Philippines and China.”

Panelo said, during this visit the two countries’ top leaders acknowledged the Philippines and China have in fact vast areas where they can cooperate and assist each other for their mutual benefits like in education, health, agriculture, science and technology, security, trade, investments, energy, people-to-people and cultural exchanges.

Xi said it is necessary to continue to promote the synergy between the Belt & Road Initiative and Philippines’ “Build, Build, Build” program, and implement major cooperative projects in such areas as infrastructure construction, industrial parks, telecommunications and energy.

“China is willing to import more high-quality fruits and agricultural products from the Philippines, and will send experts to the Philippines to teach agricultural and fishery technology,” said Xi.

Speaking highly of China’s commitment as “encouraging words”, the Philippine Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said the bilateral business and economic relations are booming during the past three years.

Lopez said that Philippine exports to China have been growing at an average of 10 percent in the last three years.

Chinese companies are also encouraged to invest in the Philippines to help increase jobs and production capacities that will enable the Philippines to enhance their exports capabilities, he added.

“The momentum of Chinese investments has been very positive as foreign direct investments (FDI) from China grew six times more in the last three years,” Lopez said.

Xi also told Duterte the two sides should set aside disputes, eliminate external interference, and concentrate on conducting cooperation, making pragmatic efforts and seeking development.

Xi said, “as long as the two sides handle the South China Sea issue properly, the atmosphere of bilateral ties will be sound, the foundation of the relationship will be stable, and regional peace and stability will have an important guarantee.”

Delfin Lorenzana, the Philippine defence secretary, said now the Philippines and China have agreed to disagree civilly on the South China Sea issue and the two countries can manage the differences.

Moreover, Lorenzana said the relations between the Philippines and China are “not circumscribed by the South China Sea issue alone.”

“There are far larger issues that we agree upon that benefit both our peoples like trade, tourism, people to people exchange and so on,” he added.

During this visit, the two sides also announced the setting-up of an intergovernmental joint steering committee and a working group between relevant enterprises on oil and gas cooperation so as to promote substantial progress in the joint exploration of oil and gas.

Henry Chan, a visiting researcher of the Manila-based thinktank Integrated Development Studies Institute, said the setting-up of an intergovernmental joint steering committee and a working group between relevant enterprises on oil and gas cooperation is a big step forward between China and the Philippines.

“The situation of the South China Sea remains peaceful and stable during the past years. It is reasonable and feasible that the two countries could set aside disputes and concentrate on conducting cooperation which will help further stabilize the situation in this region,” Chan said.

Lucio Blanco Pitlo, a lecturer with the Chinese Studies Program at Ateneo de Manila University, said Duterte’s recent visit to China attests to the importance attached by him to bilateral ties with China.

“Duterte sees China as a key partner for the Philippines”

he said.

Lucio said there will be even broader prospects for bilateral cooperation between the two countries.

“Agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, renewable energy, power, telecommunications, transportation, e-commerce, and financial technology, skills development and technology transfer are areas where Chinese capital, know-how and cooperation are making strides and may have a transformative impact to the Philippines,” he added.