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Philippine social media flooded with anti-Xi memes

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Philippine social media filled with memes mocking Chinese president

MANILA Philippine Twitter and Facebook feeds were flooded yesterday with Winnie the Pooh memes in a winking expression of anti-China sentiment stirred by President Xi Jinping's state visit to Manila yesterday.

The self-described "bear of very little brain" has been used in the past on social media to poke fun at portly Mr Xi, a joke that has drawn crackdowns from Beijing's censors.

In one clip posted yesterday, Pooh bows before a mirror while "Hail Satan" flashes across the screen, in another he floats near an artificial island built by Beijing in the disputed South China Sea.

"Because Winnie the Pooh is banned in China because he's the spitting image of Xi Jinping, let's protest his presence by posting memes and photos of him with his (lookalike)," Facebook user Wilfredo Garrido wrote.

Many Filipinos resent Beijing's claim over most of the South China Sea, which an international tribunal ruled in 2016 was without basis.

The dispute led to a freeze in Beijing-Manila ties, but all that changed when Mr Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency shortly before the judgment was handed down.

He has opted to set the key ruling aside in order to pursue billions in trade and investment from China.

The two leaders yesterday oversaw 29 agreements of sorts, many of them broad or vague, from cooperating in education, culture and industrial park development to jointly promoting infrastructure, agriculture cooperatives and establishing sanitation protocols for shipping coconuts.

Mr Duterte said there was "a deepening trust and confidence" between them and he and Mr Xi had discussed increasing trade and investment, and China's involvement in his signature US$180 billion (S$247 billion) Build, Build, Build infrastructure programme.

"With mutual respect, sincerity and adherence to sovereign equality, I will continue to work closely with President Xi," he said.

However, of the 38 Philippine projects earmarked for Chinese involvement two years ago, only four were among the commitments made yesterday.

Public opinion is largely supportive of Mr Duterte's presidency but surveys consistently show reservations about his China policy and disdain for the US.

A Social Weather Stations survey released late on Monday showed 84 per cent of Filipinos felt it was wrong not to oppose China's militarisation of its man-made islands, and 86 per cent believed it was right to strengthen the Philippine military, especially the navy.

The poll of 1,200 people conducted in late September also showed trust in the US remained "very good", but China was considered "poor".

Asked yesterday about the survey, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Mr Duterte's strategy was to avoid a potential "inferno" of conflict while reaping the rewards of improved business.

"They are not aware of the real geopolitics in the region. The president is a very cautious diplomat," Mr Panelo told news channel ANC. "Rather than provoke, he'd rather talk with them and get some trade relations that will benefit this country."