(The following is from a speech delivered at the Wuhan International Friendship City Cooperation Forum for Trade and Investment, Wuhan, China, on November 15, 2017.)
WE are grateful and excited to participate in this important undertaking in the city of Wuhan. We know how important this city is. As the capital of the province of Hubei, it is recognized as the political, economic, cultural and educational center of Central China as well as a major transport hub with its great inter-modal and intra modal-system.
We come here hoping that our trip will be able to establish lasting relations between the citizens of this city and the Chinese people in general with our own.
As you know, trade between our two nations began more than a millennium ago and as a result of this interaction an estimated one-fourth of my countrymen have Chinese blood. Today the Chinese-Filipino community in my country is the vanguard of our development, controlling many sectors of the economy, be this finance, manufacturing or the service industries.
The renewed goodwill between our two countries which has been the product of the close personal relationship between your great leader Xi Jinping and our President Duterte offers large windows of opportunity to enhance not only political but also economic ties.
In this connection we hope that the South China Sea, instead of being another Great Wall to divide our nations will become instead a huge nautical highway that will facilitate the flow of people, goods and services to our respective shores. With the One Belt, One Road initiative, this vision has become a reality.
Big Brother China
The BRI will connect the Asian continent into one family of nations led by big brother China. It envisions the development of infrastructure as well as inter-modal and intra- modal transportation and communications hubs. It is hoped that these projects will bear much fruit during the terms of office of Presidents Xi and Duterte. However, our relationship must last much longer than 2022!
This can be done if we connect not only governments but the country’s people as a whole. The efforts of our respective governments must trickle down to the grassroots where most of my countrymen and maybe also yours are found. If our roots are intertwined our relationship will be much deeper and will survive the test of time.
While we do not minimize the impact of big infrastructure projects which will connect our people, goods and services, the transfer of Chinese capital and technology into the hinterlands of my country will liberate an estimated one-third of the population now living under the poverty line, mostly in the hinterlands. An agro-industrial modernization drive with the help of your country will not only raise the level of employment income and productivity in the Philippines, it will provide a food basket, however limited, for the large Chinese population.
Our agriculture remains underdeveloped utilizing traditional methods of cultivation, while our coastal areas one some of the longest in the world due to the archipelagic configuration of our nation. Our 10 million hectares of agricultural land continue to enjoy the pastoral peace of our ancestors—but underdeveloped and underproductive producing minimal employment opportunities and low incomes for the farmers whose children to escape the poverty trap have mostly migrated to the cities seeking gainful employment.
In the past, Chinese gardeners in and around city limits provided the fruits and vegetables for the tables of city dwellers while others developed the merchandising business which to this day is still controlled by their offspring.
As China rises relentlessly to become the No. 1 economy in this world towards the middle of this century—which your great president has promised—it is our hope that in its wake it will also bring its smaller neighbors to higher levels of productivity, incomes and employment.
The Central China international fair at Wuhan was a well-attended event meant to showcase the progress of one of China’s bigger cities which is renowned for its efficient inter-modal and intra-modal transport system. It has also been described as the Silicon Valley of China which claims to be an important manufacturing hub.
In my speech in Wuhan, I shared with them the demographic dividend of the Philippines, the 12th biggest country in the world which boasts of a young and highly trainable work force, making it the second if not the first business process outsourcing (call center) capital of the world. I shared with them that some 10 percent of our population working overseas remit no less than $2 billion a month to our economy.
Passing by the Middle East on my way to Europe last month and watching how the Filipinos seem to be dominating the service industry of that region I even asked myself what would happen to this oil-rich region if the Filipinos were suddenly repatriated. My guess is that the economy would grind to a halt.
Facing the ‘gray dawn’
Given that China is now facing the “gray dawn” with its rapidly aging population where seven people have to support one retiree— needless to say a heavy burden on both the private and public sectors— the Chinese should be prepared to export their manufacturing and agricultural production, and even their service industry, to our country whose relatively modest wages will allow them to compete with rivals like India and Vietnam which enjoy a comparative advantage in international trade because of their large and cheap labor costs.
Moreover, exporting Chinese manufacturing to the Philippines will allow China to penetrate the 600-million strong market in the Asean – which is now a free-trade zone.
Parenthetically, the Chinese have only themselves to blame for their underpopulation for embarking on a radical one-child policy which has produced an inverted population pyramid where, to paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill, never in the history of mankind will so many be dependent on so few. A population needs to grow by about 2.5 babies per household to replace its population.