By Jim Gomez
MANILA, Philippines — With the rise of a friendly leader in the Philippines, China has been spared a vocal adversary in the disputed South China Sea. In the process, it has gained momentum despite last year's ruling by an arbitration tribunal that invalidated its expansive claims in the disputed waters.
The rapprochement between President Rodrigo Duterte and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, defused a tense standoff between the Asian neighbors last year at the disputed Scarborough Shoal, where China allowed Filipinos back to fish in October as years of thorny relations began to brighten.
As President Donald Trump succeeded Barack Obama, who had challenged China's assertive advances in the disputed sea, US allies wondered if Trump would press America's role as a regional counterbalance to the Asian powerhouse.
An annual summit of Asia-Pacific nations hosted by the Philippines over the weekend, however, delivered a reality check to Beijing.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met his Australian and Japanese counterparts on the sidelines of the meetings in Manila of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN. After their meeting, they issued a joint statement that blasted aggressive actions in the contested offshore territories — without, of course, naming Beijing directly, in line with diplomatic practice.
Nevertheless, China quickly voiced its irritation.
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