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China, Philippines agree to cooperate on 30 projects worth $3.7 billion

By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has agreed to cooperate with the Philippines on 30 projects worth $3.7 billion focusing on poverty reduction, the two countries said after a meeting in Beijing on Monday.

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng announced the deals without giving details, saying it was an "initial batch" of projects that still needed to be finalised and paperwork still needed to be processed by the banks involved.

Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said he had a "very productive" meeting with Gao and they had discussed large projects in rural areas, as well as some smaller projects.

The deal is the first announcement from a two-day visit by a Philippine cabinet delegation to China that comes three months after President Rodrigo Duterte visited Beijing to pave the way for new commercial alliances.

China has welcomed Duterte's foreign policy shift away from traditional ally the United States and toward doing more regional deals for loans and business under his "pro-Filipino" policy.

Relations between the Philippines and China "fully recovered" after Duterte's visit, and "China supports president Duterte to lead the Philippines people in developing their economy," Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing on Monday.

Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang told the Philippines' delegation that the two countries were friends and there was enormous potential to develop trade and business ties, state news agency Xinhua said.

Both countries should continue to push for the healthy development of relations, Wang added.

Chinese officials pledged $15 billion of investment to the Philippines during Duterte's visit in October, according to the Philippine finance department.

Asked whether U.S. President Donald Trump's economic policies would affect commercial ties between China and the Philippines, Dominguez said: "It's better to be with good friends."

"I'm not sure at this moment exactly what the new U.S. policies, but I believe that the reorientation of our president to our neighbors really was very smart," Dominguez told reporters.

The Philippine delegation is due to meet Vice Premier Wang Yang at Zhongnanhai, the Beijing complex that houses China's central government, later on Monday.

The Philippine team on the trip includes Duterte's finance, budget, economic, public works and transport secretaries.

The two sides will also discuss the Philippines' chairmanship of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said on Jan. 11 he was confident a code of conduct in the South China Sea between ASEAN and China could be finished by mid-2017.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Campbell, Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd; Writing by Ryan Woo; Editing by Robert Birsel and Clarence Fernandez)