Entrepreneurial friendship

ROSES AND THORNS - Pia Roces Morato - The Philippine Star

Even before the Spaniards landed on our shores in 1521, the Philippines was already actively trading with its Southeast Asian neighbors, along with the Ryukyu Islands (now known as Okinawa, Japan) and, of course, China. Despite a vast body of water and relatively primitive means of seafaring, the spirit of trade – and the resulting cultural exchanges – endured.

The developments in trading and technology that emerged since has only amplified that entrepreneurial bond. This correspondence has now evolved into a key link in our country’s economic relationships in the region today, with China occupying a major place at the center of it all. What would we have been if not for entrepreneurial friendship forged way back when?

I pondered these thoughts as I was witnessing Carlos Chan, chairman of the Liwayway Corporation (known to most as Oishi), as he received the “Chinese Government Friendship Award” at a recent ceremony in China. Oishi has been a household name snack brand for decades, but many people don’t know how much the Chans and the Liwayway Corporation have been instrumental in strengthening the Philippines’ trade relations with China.

It’s not entirely surprising that the Chinese government would laud someone like Carlos because they saw in him the same entrepreneurial spirit that they have fostered for centuries. More than just having brilliant business acumen, the Chinese seem to appreciate a get-it-done attitude, coupled with a headstrong willingness to face risk. Both of which Carlos definitely has in spades.

“I am a Filipino-Chinese and was born in the Philippines. Both the Philippines – my motherland, and China – my ancestral country, hold special places in my heart,” Carlos said in his acceptance speech. “These two countries are separated by a strip of water and have a brotherly relationship that has lasted for centuries.”

When the Chinese government, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, kick-started the Belt and Road Initiative, the Philippines was easily one of the markets that they wanted to include in this massive international network of trade. So, in 2018, when they first organized the China International Import Expo (CIIE), they looked no further than Carlos and the Oishi brand to represent the Philippines. Since then, Oishi has been a mainstay in the CIIE, working closely with the Center for Trade and Exposition and Missions (CITEM), the export promotion arm of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), to ensure that the country is showing the world the best Filipino products.

Just last year, the Philippine delegation in the CIIE earned a staggering $1.1 billion in sales contracts. This was well above their $700-million target, and way past the 2022 record of $655 million. While Oishi was joined by other homegrown companies in showcasing Filipino products, it’s definitely safe to say that the goodwill that they have built up over the years with the Chinese government was a huge factor in achieving this milestone.

I can’t help but be taken aback when I heard the closing words of Carlos’s speech: “I deeply understand and admire the concept of community with a shared future for mankind,” a future that, according to him, President Xi advocates. This idea means that we are all together and can benefit mutually, regardless of each other’s differences. “I hope that the people of the Philippines and China can unite and work together to create a better future.”

It is true that our diplomatic relations with China are strained at the moment. However, it is encouraging to know that when it comes to economic cooperation, we can still work together towards a shared goal of growth, prosperity and progress. Thank you, Mr. Chan, for reminding me of that. Thank you for letting your entrepreneurship be a tool of friendship between two neighbors in a bit of a spat. Your tenacity of purpose is inspiring to us all, Mr. Chan, and having witnessed your awarding, I am ever so motivated to further cultivate the long-standing friendship between our two nations whose shared heritage is deeply embedded in the heart of humanity.

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