The golden age of China-Philippines relations

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

Dapper in his traditional dark cordovan Tang suit, Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, the Chinese envoy to the Philippines, stood in front of a huge crowd of Filipino-Chinese businessmen, officials, and ladies in cherry red dress as he offered a toast for an even “brighter” golden age of China-Philippines relations.

“China will continue to be the Philippines’ good neighbor, sincere friend and trusted partner. China stands ready to join hands with the Philippines to make the fresh golden age of China-Philippines relations brighter and richer than ever before,” Zhao said during a recent reception to celebrate the 69th Founding Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

President Duterte’s pivot to China has indeed ushered in an era of strong friendship between the two countries. Zhao trumpeted the fruits of such stronger relationship — from regional stability to infrastructure.

More gifts to come

“China and the Philippines reap rich fruits of cooperation. In 2017, trade volume topped $50 billion, which made China the Philippines’ top trading partner and import origin, and the fourth largest export market. Last year, the newly added investment from China reached $53.84 million, representing a year-on-year increase of 67 percent.”

He went on to say that for the first five months of the year, China has made another investment of $165 million in the Philippines, projecting a record-high growth rate this year.

“Funded by China’s grants or soft loans, the drug-rehab centers, two bridges over Pasig River and Chico River Pump Irrigation Project already broke ground. The two sides are pushing forward more major infrastructure projects such as New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam, Subic-Clark Railway, Philippine National Railways South Long Haul and the Safe Philippines, with a total volume surpassing $7 billion.”

Chinese tourists have also been flocking to our shores.

From January to July, the Philippines received more than 760,000 Chinese tourists, a 40 percent year-on-year increase.

“We have every reason to expect more than 1.5 million Chinese tourists to visit the Philippines this year and generate a revenue of more than P32 billion,” Zhao said.

Disputed seas

On the disputed seas, Zhao called the ongoing cooperation efforts as a showcase “of sincerity, wisdom and capability…to turn the South China Sea into a sea of peace friendship and prosperity.”

Both parties are “serious” on joint exploration, he told journalists on the sidelines of the reception. It’s only just a matter of time as the Philippines and China are already crafting a deal acceptable to both countries.

I agree with the joint exploration, controversial as it sounds. For one, I believe it makes sense to finally jumpstart the exploration because it takes so much time to find new sources of energy. And time is something that is not on our side. Gas at the Malampaya facility in offshore Palawan is thinning out. But the Duterte administration must make sure that no sovereignty would be surrendered in the proposed agreement.

Similar to the Malampaya agreement and possibly even better, the joint development must comply with the Constitution and there is no waiver of our sovereign rights under the arbitral ruling.

What’s the catch?

As for China’s other “gifts” there’s a catch of course. A creeping Chinese invasion of sorts in the online gaming industry for instance, is happening. While it has been creating hundreds of jobs for Filipinos and demand for condominium units is also growing because of the Chinese buyers, some social problems are emerging.

Condominium owners, for instance, are complaining of their new and noisy Chinese neighbors. They gamble, drink, and while their time away in the condos’ common areas.

The Philippine gaming regulator has also been receiving reports of rogue online gaming companies that do not comply with offshore gaming rules such as poor working conditions in some offices.

Construction companies are complaining, too

Filipino construction companies are complaining, too, that many of Filipino firms, including the smaller ones, are being displaced by Chinese construction firms — usually with Filipino dummies — that are winning a lot of government contracts.

What can the government do?

Indeed, good relations are always welcome, whether it’s with China or Russia. But our government must make sure that our gift-bearing friends do not displace our people or destroy our country because imperfect as it is, it’s the only home we have.

In the meantime, I offer my warmest congratulations to Amb. Zhao and his team, the hardworking people at the Chinese Embassy in Manila for organizing a fitting celebration for China’s 69th founding anniversary. 

Iris Gonzales’ e-mail address is [email protected]



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