The Philippines-China connection
ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato (The Philippine Star) - September 11, 2020 - 12:00am

The ties between the Philippines and China are anchored on strengthening and fostering a positive relationship achieved especially through trade. Most recently, I caught an interview over Q 105.1, a radio station dedicated to the youth, with two of its DJs Ysa Chong and Mike Valera, together with Ambassador Jose Santiago Sta. Romana, Ambassador of the Philippines to the People’s Republic of China. For someone like me who has been a Philippine counterpart with some experience in bilateral agreements, it was relevant to understand how the diplomatic relationship between two countries is trying its hardest to push forward on trade, considering this was disrupted due to the outbreak of Covid-19.

While a drop in the first quarter was noticed, things picked up in the second quarter with a big demand seen in Beijing for Philippine bananas and other fruits such as pineapples. It is also good to note that, according to Ambassador Sta. Romana, import of young coconuts and avocados was allowed by Chinese authorities and these are in daily demand. For those who didn’t know, the Philippines supplies 50 to even 60 percent of bananas to China, making it the top among our exports. China also remains to be our top import source for machinery and fuel oil.

While both the Philippines and China are actively participating in preventative measures on trade due to COVID-19, recovery is also at the forefront of continued development and growth. Cargo between the two countries continues to flow smoothly and while tourism will have to wait, diplomacy and other relevant exchanges also happen virtually.

China is the second biggest economy and it is the fastest in the consumer market. Because of this therefore, Ambassador Sta. Romana explained that it is essential for the Philippines to be part of the China market, considering they bought $600 million worth of bananas alone last year and the same is to be expected this year.

After experiencing a decline in economic growth, China is moving forward and it may in fact be the only major economy that will show a positive growth. With the improving situation in China, most Filipinos have resumed work and have coped well during the pandemic and while COVID-19 disrupted our bilateral relations, Ambassador Sta. Romana explained that a new channel has opened up in terms of combating this pandemic through a vaccine.

During a phone conversation with President Xi Jinping, President Duterte raised the question on the vaccine and it was here that President Xi agreed to consider the Philippines when a vaccine is developed. Three vaccines are in its final stages in China and there is a cooperation between Brazil and the UAE, as well as an agreement with Indonesia, and ongoing discussions include the Philippines as to how it will partake in the phase three trial.

It is a big deal, as Ambassador Sta. Romana explained, that China has the “Wuhan experience.” Through this, strategies and best practices were developed, making them benefit from being the first to undergo the outbreak. The key was to start from the very beginning and know who the carriers are. This is a people’s war, as Ambassador Sta. Romana explained, and this being so, it took a whole of government effort as well as the entire society. There were many lessons learned and these lessons were the very same ones that the Chinese medical team shared when they came to the Philippines.

The interview further led to the issue of the South China Sea and as expressed by Ambassador Sta. Romana, the disputes do not define the relationship between our countries, considering there is a whole area of cooperation between us, including beating a pandemic that has affected the entire world.

Since the Philippines is the coordinator for ASEAN-China relations, we have the stake of pushing forward what we call the Code of Conduct on the South China Sea, and the original idea was to be able to finish by 2021, where the outcome hoped for is to resolve or manage the controversial and contentious issues, through an agreement that is effective and sustainable and readily implemented.

Since 2016, and although personal exchanges have entered into a climax, the issue on online gambling remains. Ambassador Sta. Romana explained that although this is a complicated matter where the Philippines has also experienced benefits, the goal is to be able to maintain all such benefits but also crack down on the negative and illegal aspects derived from it, through cooperation.

In the end, Sino-Philippine relations will all depend on the foundation of our bilateral relations where benefits to people, economic trade and investment projects play a key role. If the people feel the benefits, says Ambassador Sta. Romana, they will support the continuation of this relation and for the long run, where even media play a big part in proper reporting. Bilateral relations last a very long time. Our heritage for one shows this and if we are to win the hearts and minds of people, we must look into the future by learning more about our shared history being the backbone that may very well propel us into the future together.

CHINA PHILIPPINES
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