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Marcos’ China state visit, durian diplomacy and $22.8 billion investments |


Marcos’ China state visit, durian diplomacy and $22.8 billion investments

WILL SOON FLOURISH - Wilson Lee Flores - The Philippine Star
Marcosâ China state visit, durian diplomacy and $22.8 billion investments
Chinese First Lady Peng Liyuan and President Xi Jinping talk about a special exhibit during a state banquet welcoming President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos and First Lady Liza A. Marcos at the Great Hall of the People.

BEIJING — Despite the cold winter and some remaining health protocols, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. and First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos had a successful Jan. 3 to 5 China state visit. It was auspicious as his first state visit to a non-ASEAN country was also the first foreign head-of-state visit to China in 2023, coming amid the ongoing post-pandemic reopening of the world’s second biggest economy.

Among the highlights of the Marcos state visit were 14 signed agreements from agriculture, infrastructure, development, maritime security to tourism cooperation (reopening of daily flights); China opening to Philippine durian exports (the huge China market is now dominated by Thailand and Malaysia, with Thais exporting $4 billion in durian fruits to China per year!); $22.8 billion investment pledges; a dialogue on helping Filipino fishermen; and possibly restarting talks for joint oil exploration in the sea. Marcos also said he extended an invitation to President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan to visit Manila.

The chartered Philippine Airlines (PAL) plane carrying President Marcos, government officials (former President and now Senior Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whom PBBM described as his “secret weapon,” cabinet secretaries to legislators, including Speaker Martin Romualdez and Senator Imee Marcos), a business delegation and media used the Maharlika Presidential Hangar of Villamor Air Base in Pasay City for departure and arrival. The Facebook-savvy China Ambassador Huang Xilian and Vice President Sara Duterte Carpio were at the sendoff ceremony.

The Philippine delegation was billeted at the five-star St. Regis Hotel with an efficient and strict “bubble,” as China now transitions to post-pandemic normal and full reopening, while the government talks and ceremonies were all held at the colossal Great Hall of the People.

Great Wall of China was the backdrop inside the Great Hall of the People, where President Marcos is welcomed with honor guards by President Xi Jinping.

Grand welcome for PBBM & bilateral meetings with top 3 China leaders

President Marcos’ meetings with China’s top three leaders were held at different halls of the Great Hall of the People on Jan. 4: 11 a.m. at Shanghai Hall with National People’s Congress leader Li Zhanshu, 3:45 p.m. at West Hall with Premier Li Keqiang, and a 5 p.m. welcome ceremony and bilateral meeting with President Xi at the East Hall, while the 6:45 p.m. welcome state banquet at the Golden Hall was hosted by President Xi and First Lady Peng.

The Philippines was accorded high importance, as shown when President Xi gave President Marcos a grand welcoming ceremony at the massive Great Hall of the People complete with 21-gun salute and the review of the impressive honor guards.

This was the sumptuous menu served during the 6:45-7:45 p.m. welcome state banquet in honor of President Bongbong Marcos and First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos hosted by China President Xi Jinping and First Lady Peng Liyuan at the Golden Hall of the Great Hall of the People: Lobster Soup; Buddha Jumps Over the Wall; Peking Duck; Crispy Beef; Crabmeat Tofu; Seafood Fried Rice; Two-color Dragon Beard Noodles; Rice Cake; and Candied Haws Fruits.

President Marcos was warmly welcomed as an old friend of the Chinese nation, with Xi hailing the historic decision made by his father, President Ferdinand E. Marcos and Chinese leaders Chairman Mao Zedong, Premier and Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai 48 years ago to establish bilateral diplomatic relations. He also commended the Marcos family for its longstanding commitment to promoting bilateral friendship, despite changes in the global landscape and even in the Philippines’ domestic political situation. Xi added that Beijing has always prioritized Manila in its diplomacy and considers bilateral ties from a strategic and overall perspective.

President Bongbong Marcos told Xi that he was honored that they remember his having been a witness to the 1970s establishment of bilateral ties. He said: “It has now become my responsibility, and certainly my privilege, to be able to continue that legacy, to continue to promote the friendship between the Philippines and China to continue to bring our peoples closer together.”

Xi said he is willing to maintain frequent strategic dialogue with Marcos, to make the two countries good neighbors, relatives and partners that can cooperate for win-win outcomes. He also called on the two countries to further align development strategies, help each other’s modernization process and contribute to each country’s progress.

17-year-old BBM witnessed Mao and Imelda’s historic 1974 meeting

When the Chinese First Couple presented to the Marcoses a photo of then 17-year-old Bongbong Marcos with Chairman Mao and then First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos, President Marcos smiled happily at the colored photo and recalled that the next day, while international media reported the historic meeting, they had cropped him out of their photos. This remark elicited a big laugh from First Lady Peng Liyuan and smiles from Xi and First Lady Liza A. Marcos.

A China media commentator later remarked that of all the world’s 200 heads of state today, it is only Philippine President Bongbong Marcos who has had the privilege of personally meeting the legendary Chairman Mao.

In that pivotal September 1974 visit by Imelda Marcos as special envoy to meet Chairman Mao, one unforgettable moment came when the First Lady respectfully drew Mao’s hand to her cheek, then Mao surprisingly kissed her hand in a classic Western gesture. This was captured by photographers, becoming what Chinese media described as “The number one kiss in the world” and “The only photograph of Mao Zedong kissing a woman.”

After that hand-kissing interaction, news videos recorded young Bongbong Marcos also excitedly going up to Chairman Mao and kissing his cheeks.

First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos and China First Lady Peng Liyuan in front of a replica of the Forbidden City

‘Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation’ between two neighbors

President Marcos said that he had “cordial and fruitful engagements” with Chinese President Xi and other Chinese officials. He recounted they had a comprehensive discussion on the overall state of bilateral relations between the Philippines and China, including areas for increased cooperation like agriculture, energy, infrastructure, trade and investment, science and technology, and people-to-people ties.

He said: “As we embark on a new chapter of our bilateral ties, President Xi and I shared the commitment to do everything possible to ensure that the Philippines and China will continue the positive trajectory of our relations, which have been elevated to that of Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation since 2018.”

Durian diplomacy & $22.8 billion investment pledges

Marcos shared the good news of economic gains from the state visit, saying: “The various Chinese companies participating in these meetings presented their investment plans in the Philippines, totaling US$22.8 billion and trade purchase intentions of close to US$2.1 billion… When realized, these investments will support our country’s economic recovery efforts and create more jobs for Filipinos within our country.”

The commitments Marcos had secured from Chinese investors include US$13.76 billion for renewable energy, $7.32 billion for electric vehicles and mineral processing, and US$1.72 billion for agriculture.

On China’s willingness to import quality agricultural produce, he said: “We signed the agreement on Jan. 4 and the agreement between the Philippines and China as to the rules and regulations to make possible the importation of durian, mangosteen, and other specialty rice varieties and other fruits to China to help redress the trade imbalance that we now have.”

Department of Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Neal Imperial recounted: “Durian diplomacy was also at its height during the state banquet when the light banter between President Marcos and President Xi revolved around the fruit. When President Xi, a durian connoisseur, revealed that he had not yet tasted Philippine durian, I whispered to Ambassador-designate Jimmi FlorCruz that it was his cue to conduct some hard-nosed durian diplomacy in Beijing.”

Durian industry farmers and traders from Mindanao told Philippine STAR in Beijing: “The durian industry is expected to generate about P8.17 billion or US$150 million income during the first year of trade with China and this shall increase every year as we expand and improve our production capacities.”

Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) Secretary Atty. Ivan Uy said: “The Philippines and China agreement on durian during President Marcos’ state visit will allow direct durian exports to China from the Philippines subject to phytosanitary compliance. Currently, China is buying durian from Thailand, which is also actually sourced from the Philippines. Thailand exports US$4 billion worth of durian fruits to China every year.”

The First Lady toured Forbidden City, Mao Memorial & National Museum of China

Media, along with business leaders FFCCCII vice president Michael Tan and Globe Telecom chairman Ernest Cu, cabinet undersecretaries and government officials like PAGCOR chairman Al Tengco, National Housing Authority CEO Joeben Tai and PCSO general manager Mel Robles accompanied First Lady Liza Araneta Marcos in her special guided tours of the historic Forbidden City (the world’s biggest palace complex of 72 hectares, 980 imperial palace and temple buildings) and the Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall (where the First Lady offered a flower wreath and wrote in the guestbook a tribute to Mao and her late father-in-law Ferdinand Marcos for opening official diplomatic ties between Manila and Beijing).

Liza Marcos also toured the National Museum of China accompanied by First Lady Peng Liyuan, a famous soprano singer before her husband’s rise to top political leadership. They both visited an exhibition of 400 cultural artifacts with the theme of “harmonious coexistence,” held jointly by the National Museum of China and the Palace Museum. They both recalled the history of exchanges between the older generation of leaders of the two countries and were pleased with the development of bilateral friendly relations.

Peng said friendship and good neighborliness, along with seeking harmony among all nations, are the principles of Chinese civilization that guide her country’s interactions with others. She added that China and the Philippines are close neighbors facing each other across the sea, and the Philippines is an important country along the historic Maritime Silk Road. She said: “It is hoped that the two peoples can carry forward the traditional friendship and bring bilateral relations to a new high.”

Liza Araneta Marcos thanked Peng for inviting her to visit the National Museum of China. She praised the exquisite collection of artifacts on display. She added that she wants a better and deeper understanding of Chinese history and culture, and that the two peoples should carry forward the spirit of the Maritime Silk Road and continue to enhance mutual trust and friendship.

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