• Philippine–Chinese relations: Challenges and opportunities



    “The differences between friends cannot but reinforce their friendship”
    – Mao Zedong, in his typically Confusian thought, has been quoted to have said.

    Sometimes misunderstandings between nations can occur because of wrong perceptions. For example, there is the misperception that the Philippines is beholden to some superpower and will follow blindly her dictates. If this has been the case in the past it certainly is not true today under an administration that is determined to uphold the constitutional mandate that our country pursue an independent foreign policy, and that in its relation with other states, the paramount consideration shall be national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest, and the right to self determination.

    From now on the concepts of enlightened self-interest tied to the common good will determine Philippine foreign policy.

    The Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping tried to erase the portrayal of China as a hegemon with these words: “China is not a superpower, nor will she ever seek to be one. If one day she should change her color and turn into a superpower, if she, too, plays the tyrant in the world, and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should identify her as social-imperialism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.”

    On the other hand, President Xi Jinping in recent pronouncements repeated the Chinese mantra of the five principles, which are supposed to guide Chinese conduct of foreign relations. These are:

    1. Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty

    2. Mutual non-aggression

    3. Mutual non-interference in each other’s affairs

    4. Equality and cooperation for mutual benefit, and

    5. Peaceful co-existence.

    Should the Philippines and China adopt these principles to guide their bilateral relations, there should be no issues between our two nations that cannot be resolved even if, as Confucius says, this will entail a journey of a thousand miles beginning with a step. This step was taken by President Ramos recently in his capacity as a special envoy of President Duterte.

    In the past, colonizers invaded our lands, subjugated our people and ran our country as overlords for centuries and decades. In stark contrast, China peacefully landed on our shores bringing silk, potteries and other precious merchandise even if she had the means to colonize our archipelago.

    The relationship between our two countries, which goes back over a thousand years, can be said to be productive for both sides. Chinese records show commercial intercourse between our two nations dating more than a thousand years with Philippine traders spotted in southernmost China and Chinese merchants trading in parts of the archipelago. With the arrival of the Spanish colonizers, the lucrative galleon trade linked our continent to that of South America, exposing our two nations to international trade. Indeed, the efforts made by Chinese émigrés to develop our commercial sector and distributive trade has certainly been an important factor in developing our economy.

    Blood ties
    During the Spanish colonial period, the Spanish conquistador resorted to a blood compact with a Filipino chief to emphasize the need for the two nations to live in harmony and peace. In the case of China, the blood compact gave way to a “biological compact,” which produced a massive intermingling of Chinese and native genes.

    Indeed Chinese-Filipinos now constitute one of the largest overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, while in some countries in the region, the Chinese communities have suffered some sort of discrimination, which have sometimes brought about bloody ethnic violence. On the other hand, the Chinese in the Philippines have been very well assimilated into our society. In recent years, Chinese Filipinos numbered about 1.5 million, and an estimated 15-25 percent of the population descended from Chinese roots. Today Filipinos of Chinese origin control many sectors of the economy. Starting with their capture of the distributive trade, our so-called Taipans now dominate the manufacturing, food and financial sectors. If one were to look at the top 10 businessmen in the country, almost all of them are Chinese descendants.

    Bilateral agreements
    Several bilateral agreements have been signed between China and the Philippines, notably in the areas of technology, commerce and security. The Scientific and Technological Cooperation Agreement of 1978, the Joint Trade Agreement signed in 1975, the Investment and Promotion Agreement of 1992, the Agreement on Agricultural Cooperation of 1999 are examples of these technological and economic pacts.

    Security cooperation
    On the security side, the Visiting Forces Agreement of 1999, followed by a treaty on Mutual Judicial Assistance on Criminal Matters 2000, reflects a common desire for mutual security. In 2004, our armed forces officials visited China, resulting in the establishment of a mechanism for an annual defense and security consultations. This has been an ongoing process, which saw the exchange of visits of high-ranking members of the two countries armed forces.

    Since the restoration of political ties between our two nations with the establishment of diplomatic relations, there have been frequent exchanges of high-level state visits following the meeting between Chairman Mao and President Marcos in 1975. Indeed, every sitting President since Marcos has visited China from President Cory Aquino to his son. On the part of China, Premier Zhu Rongji, President Jiang Zemin, President Hu Jin Tao and President Wen Jiabao have honored the Philippines with their visits.

    The visit of President Jiang Zemin in 1996 was notable, not because he surprised us with his singing talent, but by his eagerness to establish a cooperative relationship based on good-neighborliness and mutual trust toward the 21st century, and even more importantly the agreement between he and then President Ramos to shelve disputes and promote the joint development of the China Sea. This laid the basis for a joint statement signed in 2000 by the two countries proposing a framework of bilateral cooperation in the 21st century, which provided the template for the establishment of a long term and stable relationship on the basis of good neighborliness, cooperation, mutual trust and benefit. When President Hu Jintao visited us in 2005, both countries expressed the determination to establish a strategic and cooperative relationship aimed at peace and development, a sentiment expressed by President Wen Jiabao in 2007, when he and President Arroyo issued a joint statement reaffirming the commitment of taking further steps to deepen the strategic and cooperative relationship for peace and development between the two nation.

    Challenges and opportunities
    The Chinese character referring to challenge can also be read as opportunity. Our delegation, therefore, hopes that we look at the positive side and look at the future as partners in development.

    No respectable economist in any part of the world will doubt that China will become the economic superpower in the world in the near future and will become the hub of which the Asean countries will be the spokes. Indeed, the economic destinies of Southeast Asian nations will rise and fall depending on the strength and weakness of the middle kingdom. If you consider the expected dominant position of India in South Asia, it can readily be said that at long last Asia belongs to the Asians. Indeed, with the rapid rise of China, India and the Asean community, the last vestiges of the colonial control exercised by the West over the political and economic life of the Asian continent, where close to a third of the world’s population reside, will finally come to a close.

    Given the above scenario, it behooves all the nations in this part of the globe to show regional solidarity and promote the principle of subsidiarity, which proposes that the strong come to the aid of the weak and reverse the evil process perpetrated by the colonizers, where the rich nations of the West feasted on the undeveloped resources of the poor nations of the East. In this endeavor, the world expects China through its Silk Route initiative and its financial project the AIIB to be to Asia what the Marshall Plan did to Western Europe.

    Recently, former President and Special Envoy Fidel V. Ramos met in Hong Kong with his old friends – Madam Fu Ying (Chairman, Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress – in a friendly atmosphere.

    Their informal discussion focused on the need to engaged in further talks to build trust and confidence, to reduce tensions, to pave the way for overall cooperation for the benefit of the people and the region on both sides. They explored possible human and ecological security options and suggestions for the benefit of their peoples, such as:

    a) Encouraging marine preservation;

    b) Avoiding tension and promoting fishing cooperation;

    c) Anti-drug and anti-smuggling cooperation;

    d) Anti-crime and anti-corruption cooperation;

    e) Improving tourism opportunities;

    f) Encouraging trade and investment facilitation;

    g) Encouraging tract II (think tank) exchange on relevant issues of mutual concern and interest.

    They expressed the hope to find common ground for mutual benefit, especially for the poverty-stricken sectors of their societies. They stressed that building trust is very important to the long-term beneficial relationship between the Philippines and China.

    They value the long history of friendship of the two neighboring countries and the prospect of further cooperation for the sake of future generations.

    With these developments it is hoped that Philippine-Chinese relations, which have of late been in suspended animation due to legal disputes, can again get on track to pursue a path that behooves close neighbors to get together, being already tied by history and by blood.

    The author is the President of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations


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    1. Eugenio A. Pulmano on

      Wishful thinking or realistic appraisal?. Is the past sufficient guide for the present towards an uncertain future? How true is the dictum that there are no permant alliances, only lasting self-interests. The world is complicated as it is, and likely, more so in the future. Only time will tell which of these will pan out.

    2. A level-headed commentary! The local “Tsinoys” – 4the generation or more – are more Filipino than Chinese, thanks to President Marcos’ program of assimilation.

      The only Chinese that gave us trouble was Limahong and he was a pirate also wanted by the then the Chinese Imperial Government.

      China should not miss this opportunity to show its true friendship by at least maintaining the status quo and allow us to fish in our traditional fishing ground.

      Mabuhay ang Filipinas!