Masinloc, Zambales: A Chinese official on Saturday said Beijing would extend assistance to Filipino fishermen displaced by China’s takeover of the resource-rich Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in 2012.
In a dialogue at the regional office of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Liu Shin Chong, Fisheries of China assistant director, promised to provide modern technology, equipment and facilities to fishermen to give them an alternative source of income.
Liu said Chinese President Xi Jin Ping had instructed China’s agriculture officials to immediately go to the Philippines to see what could be done to help Filipino fishermen.
The decision was reached following a private meeting between President Rodrigo Duterte and Xi in Beijing in October.
China, he told the fishermen, was the No. 1 aquaculture country in the world.
But Leonardo Cuaresma, chairman of the Federation of Fisherfolks in Masinloc, said the offer of the Chinese official was another way of bullying Filipinos.
“It’s like we’re given candy so that we will not complain that they took the Scarborough from us,” he said.
He said a Chinese ship still blocked the entrance to the lagoon and that fishermen were limited to fishing just around the shoal.
If China is sincere in saying that Filipinos and Chinese are “brothers,” the latter must give back the shoal to the Philippines, he said.
Liu was part of a 14-man delegation of Chinese and Filipino agriculture and fisheries officials that met with fishermen from the provinces of Bataan, Pangasinan and Zambales.
China’s takeover of Panatag forced the Philippines to go to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013. In July, the arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claim to Panatag and other areas within the country’s 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
Beijing refuses to recognize the decision, and Duterte did not insist on it during his visit to China last month.
No visas for Chinese
With ties between Manila and Beijing on the mend, the Philippine government is looking at relaxing visa requirements for Chinese tourists.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the proposal was being studied even at the height of tensions over the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Chinese traders are urging the Duterte administration to implement a visa-free policy to further boost tourism and investment.
Charles Jose, DFA assistant secretary and spokesman, said the request was not new.
But he stressed “it should be studied by an inter-agency group [and]not just the DFA to make sure all angles of the issue are covered.”
Jose Santiago “Chito” Sta. Romana, who has been appointed the next ambassador to China, said visa facilitation and liberalization would depend on the outcome of the bilateral talks.
He noted that there were more Filipino tourists going to China, and the Philippine government would “want to first balance that.”
“We like to have the same access to travel as the Chinese,” he said. “The basic approach is to relax the visa restrictions to encourage tourism on both ways on mutually beneficial terms,” he added.
According to the China National Tourism Administration, the Philippines was China’s 11th largest source of tourists, with over a million arrivals.
In 2015, 490,841 Chinese tourists visited the Philippines, 24.28 percent higher than the 394,951 arrivals in 2014. In the past seven months, 422,801 Chinese tourists visited the country.
Uni-Orient Travel Inc. chairman Stephen Techico, also chairman of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Associations of the Philippines, said allowing the Chinese to enter the Philippines visa-free should be prioritized by the government to help the tourism industry catch up with other countries in the region.
He said the 2010 Rizal Park hostage crisis that killed eight Hong Kong tourists left a lingering effect on local tourism.
If the country opens up its doors, more investors will come and visit to see business opportunities in the Philippines, boosting employment, he said.
Anthony Chan, president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, agreed, saying many Chinese investors were interested in tourism and infrastructure.
Patrick Ip, principal of the China-Asean Investment Cooperation Fund, said a visa-free policy would change the investment landscape, noting that the Philippines’ annual share in Chinese investments to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations amounted only to $44 million, compared with $18 billion in Vietnam.