China says backs Philippines' anti-narcotics campaign

October 14, 2016 5:31 AM EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - China backs Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-narcotics campaign and will cooperate with the Southeast Asian country in the war against drugs, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

Duterte won the presidential election by a huge margin in May after campaigning almost entirely on promises to wipe out drugs and crime.

Nearly 2,300 people have died in the war on drugs since the campaign started on June 30, according to police, of which 1,566 were drug suspects killed in police operations.

Western countries have expressed concern at extrajudicial killings, concerns strongly rebuffed by Duterte.

China has also offered support.

"We understand and support the Philippine government's policy under President Duterte of prioritizing the fight against drug crime," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing.

Duterte visits China next week, where he will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

"As I understand it, during President Duterte's visit to China, he will participate in relevant anti-drugs related activities. At present both countries are in close communication about this," Geng said.

"Both countries anti-narcotics departments have already begun to explore cooperation. I believe that the results will be seen very soon."

He did not elaborate.

Under Duterte, Manila's relations with traditional ally Washington have come under strain.

He has opted to put aside years of hostility with China, especially over the disputed South China Sea, to form a new partnership.

Duterte has not exempted China from blame when it comes to drugs, however, and has several times said China should do more to stem the flow of narcotics into his country.

On Friday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Charles Jose confirmed that Duterte was tentatively due to visit China's anti-drugs agency during his trip and get an idea of how China was tackling its own narcotics problems.

"It's not final yet but I think the purpose is to, for the president to see for himself," Jose told a regular briefing, adding that China was supporting the Philippines in terms of rehabilitation programs and law enforcement.

The Philippines on Wednesday announced the opening of a huge rehabilitation center on a military base funded by a Chinese tycoon, which would be able to support 10,000 drug users.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Martin Petty; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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