With a history spanning thousands of years, the Maritime Silk Road has served as a close bond between China and the Philippines, the two permanent neighbors. Since 2016, under guidance of Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, practical cooperation in various fields between the two countries has been renewed and now is in full swing. President Xi Jinping’s upcoming state visit to the Philippines will be a milestone in upgrading relations between China and the Philippines in the new era. The two leaders will make new strategic plans for the development of China-Philippine relations, exchange views in depth on issues of common concern, and draw up new blueprints for the development of bilateral relations.
Steadily Deepening Political Cooperation
In April this year, during a meeting with his Philippine counterpart Rodrigo Duterte at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference in Hainan Province, Chinese President Xi Jinping pointed out that the task of this year should be “upgrading” China-Philippine relations, which have taken two steps upward from a turnaround to a consolidated relationship in the past two years. The two leaders have maintained close contact to strengthen strategic guidance and top-level design for China-Philippine relations. Since President Duterte took office in June 2016, especially after his historic visit to China in October 2016, the two presidents have met five times in two years. Over the past two years, they have established solid mutual trust and friendship, jointly led the bilateral relations out of the troughs and made great strides in the right direction in line with the common interests of the two peoples.
“The Philippines and China maintain close and friendly relations. Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Philippines will deepen practical cooperation between the two countries in various fields and consolidate the friendship between the two countries. The Philippines and China are both Asian countries with close natural ties. The large number of overseas Chinese and their descendants living in the Philippines have also become a natural bond between the two countries”, said Joseph E. Estrada, Mayor of Manila and former President of the Philippines, in an interview with our reporter.
The development of China-Philippine relations is a blessing to regional stability. At present, the two countries are conducting close cooperation in fields such as fight against drugs, terrorism and cyber-crimes, and in-depth discussions on practical cooperation in such areas as fisheries, maritime affairs, joint search and rescue, marine scientific research and environmental protection. In August this year, the Philippines took over the role as the country coordinator for the China-ASEAN relations. As China and the Philippines are both developing countries, their bilateral cooperation in regional and multilateral affairs is conducive to safeguarding the interests of developing countries, upgrading China-ASEAN relations and securing greater achievements in East Asia cooperation.
Standing at a new historical starting point, China and the Philippines have maintained close high-level exchanges and strengthened strategic guidance to ensure the right direction of the bilateral relations. “We will work together through some practical cooperation projects while strengthening people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and the two countries will continue to enhance mutual trust. I sincerely hope that more Philippine young people will see China’s achievements for themselves. Philippine-China relations will continue to develop and for the Philippines, China's governance experience is worth learning from”, said Gloria Arroyo, Speaker of the House of Representatives and former President of the Philippines, to our reporter.
Improving Economic and Trade Exchanges
Bilateral cooperation in economic exchanges is also getting better. Since last year, the trade volume between China and the Philippines has increased significantly and China's investment in the Philippines has grown rapidly. According to Chinese statistics, the trade volume between China and the Philippines reached US$51.36 billion in 2017, up 7.7 percent year on year. In 2017, China became the Philippines’ largest trading partner for the first time, largest source of imports and fourth largest export market. At the first China International Import Expo, Philippine exhibitors achieved $124 million in sales. Secretary Ramon Lopez of the Department of Trade and Industry of the Philippines pointed out that the achievement exceeded their target of US$50 million and hoped that the sales volume will double next year.
As the Philippines is an important hub of the Maritime Silk Road, China and the Philippines are natural partners to build the Belt and Road. China supports Duterte's “Build, Build, Build” strategy, and the bilateral cooperation is accelerating and will play a positive role in developing the economy of the Philippines and improving its people’s livelihood.
In November last year, the Chinese and Philippine governments signed an exchange of letters on the project of Drug Rehabilitation Center, which officially started in January this year. Two “Windows of Hope”, being built by China State Construction Engineering Corporation Limited (CSCEC) on Mindanao Island, will be completed by the end of this year and handed over early next year. “The Philippines owes a lot to China for the drug rehabilitation center project, which will help the Philippines safeguard its people’s health better and cultivate responsible citizens. The project will be a new witness to the long-lasting friendship between the people of both countries”, said Abdullah B. Dumama, Assistant Secretary of Department of Health of the Philippines.
The winding Pasig River sketches the development of Manila, and the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge, whose piles are being piled on the river, represents the city’s booming present and future. In July this year, two China-aided bridges were officially started. “This is a very important help and also a witness to the friendship between the two countries. The Belt and Road construction will help achieve regional and global connectivity and boost the economic development of countries along the route. The Philippines hopes to get deeply involved in building the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road”, Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said in an interview with our reporter.
Carlos Chan, the honorary chairman of Liwayway Group, told our reporter that as the Belt and Road Initiative has opened up new areas for bilateral cooperation, the two countries will see deepening cooperation in infrastructure construction, agriculture, tourism, education and other fields, and that the Philippines will share the dividends from its participation in the Belt and Road construction.
Fruitful Cultural Exchanges
In downtown Manila, the abundant exhibits in the Bahay Tsinoy tell the historical stories of Chinese and Philippine people learning from each other. In recent years, China and the Philippines have made fruitful achievements in cultural exchanges. At the 39th Manila International Book Fair in September in 2018, Chinese themed books represented by XIJINPING: The Governance of China (I) and XIJINPING: The Governance of China (II) attracted a large number of Philippine readers. This was the first time that a Chinese book exhibition had been held at the book fair. In the Meantime, many public libraries in the Philippines, such as the National Library of the Philippines, have successively designated sections for Chinese books, which has greatly satisfied the needs of more and more Chinese language learners and opened a window for Philippine readers to learn more about China.
This year, the Ballet Philippines visited Beijing and Shanghai, which was the first reciprocal visit since the National Ballet of China performed “Raise the Red Lantern” in the Philippines in 2016. The Ballet Philippines performed a new work called “Sama-Sama”. Margaret Moran, chairwoman of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, thought that the performance, which reflects the traditional spirit of mutual help in the Philippines, conveys good expectations for the continuous cooperation between the two countries. She said, “Since 2016, the cultural and artistic exchanges between the two countries have been continuously advanced. We will welcome more excellent Chinese artistic works to the Philippines and we also hope that Philippine culture and art will win the hearts of Chinese audiences.”
Education cooperation between China and the Philippines has also been achieving new progress. Chinese has been included in the curriculum system of public middle schools by the Department of Education of the Republic of the Philippines as a formal foreign language course. The Confucius Institute, jointly established by Fujian Normal University (FNU) in China and Angeles University Foundation (AUF) in the Philippines, undertakes many tasks, such as training of local Chinese teachers, construction of Chinese courses and compilation of Chinese textbooks. According to Zhang Shifang, supervisor of the Chinese Language Program of the Department of Education of the Republic of the Philippines, so far 82 public high schools in the Philippines have Chinese language courses; China has helped develop as many as 304 in-service Chinese language teachers; up to 11,000 public high school students have taken HSK or the Chinese Proficiency Test this year alone. “Chinese language teaching in the mainstream society of the Philippines has gained momentum, and the Department of Education of the Philippines expects to further strengthen cooperation with Confucius Institute Headquarters (Hanban) in projects like training local Chinese language teachers ”, said Zhang Shifang.
The Philippines, a beautiful island country with charming tropical scenery, is increasingly popular with Chinese tourists. Since the China-Philippines relations changed for the better, tourism cooperation has become a highlight. From January to July 2018, 760,000 Chinese tourists traveled to the Philippines, an increase of 40% over that of 2017, and the total number of tourists for the year is expected to exceed 1.5 million.
The people-to-people exchanges between China and the Philippines are also manifested in precious friendship in times of trouble. Whenever the Philippines is hit by a natural disaster, the Chinese people are always the first to lend a helping hand. China firmly supports the reconstruction efforts in Marawi and other projects such as building drinking water pumping stations in the Philippine’s rural areas, supporting the Philippines in its efforts to improve its people’s livelihood, reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development.
“The Philippine-China relations are at their best in recent years. We believe that by expanding open exchanges, the two countries will be able to enhance mutual understanding and mutual trust, consolidate public support and become trustworthy partners”, said Mr. Benedict, vice chairman of the Association for Philippine-China Understanding (APCU), to our reporter.
(Translated by Zhou Yanling, reviewed by Xie Xiujuan)