China-Philippines Relations Shine Brighter in the Tempering of Time
By Ambassador Huang Xilian
9 June 2021
An aged photograph hanging on the wall of the Chinese Embassy library has often interested visitors, which has captured the historic scene of Premier Zhou Enlai and the then Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos signing the Joint Communiqué on the Establishment of Diplomatic Relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of the Philippines, when our two countries formally started diplomatic ties 46 years ago.
Even long before that, the friendship between China and Philippines have already started. Back to hundreds of years ago in the Ming Dynasty, numbers of cargo ships sailed from Fujian to the Southeast Asia and their first stop on the sea was the Philippines. The Maritime Silk Road has promoted unimpeded trade and cultural exchanges, and closely linked up the two countries and peoples. Ever since the ancient times, many Chinese have come to the Philippines, where they settled down, raised families and made friends, and even fought shoulder to shoulder with local Filipinos against foreign aggression to protect the common homeland. As of today, millions of Filipino-Chinese are living in the country, while the bustling Binondo streets and popular Chinese dishes such as Tikoy and Siopao are all vivid manifestations of the time-honored bonds of kinship and friendship between the two countries.
In recent years, the China-Philippines relations have been flourishing under the guidance of our two heads of states. The bilateral relationship has been elevated from the 21st Century-oriented Cooperative Relationship of Good Neighborliness and Mutual Trust to the Strategic and Cooperative Relationship for Peace and Development, and then the Relationship of Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation. Ushering into the new era, President Xi Jinping and President Duterte have met for eight times face-to-face, drawing up strategic blueprints for the continuous development of China-Philippines relations. After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two leaders continue to engage closely in “cloud diplomacy” by various means including phone call and exchanging letters and messages, providing strategic guidance for the steady growth of bilateral relations.
Practical cooperation across the board between China and the Philippines have made remarkable progress. Under the leadership of President Xi and President Duterte, the synergies between the Belt and Road initiative and the Build, Build, Build program have been deepened. So far, 12 government-to-government cooperation projects have been completed, 7 projects are under implementation and more than 10 projects going forward smoothly. The economic and trade cooperation between the two countries has been rising against the adverse impact of COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, the bilateral trade between our two countries reached 61.15 billion USD, with a year-on-year increase of 0.3%. China’s non-financial direct investment in the Philippines hit $140 million USD, which was 1.36 times more than the number in 2019. During the first quarter this year, the bilateral trade reached 16.49 billion USD and China’s non-financial direct investment in the Philippines 27.36 million USD, increased by 34.7% and 85.2% respectively. China remains the largest trading partner, the largest source of imports, the third largest export market and the second largest foreign investors of the Philippines. Tropical fruits from the Philippines such as bananas and avocados have been served on the dining tables of more and more Chinese families.
The China-Philippines friendship is best exemplified during our common fight against the COVID-19. Last year, at the height of China’s battle with COVID-19, the Philippine government and people from all walks of life provided valued support and assistance to China. In light of the pandemic situation in the Philippines, China has also extended every help and support to the Philippines to the best of its ability. We have promptly provided well-needed medical supplies to the Philippines, and shared our hard-earned experience and dispatched an anti-pandemic medical expert team to the Philippines. Together with our Filipino friends, many memorable “Firsts” were recorded. China was the first country to donate test kits, the first and the only country to dispatch anti-pandemic medical expert team to the Philippines, and also the first country to issue special permit for the Philippine military air crafts and vessels to land and dock in China for the transportation of medical supplies. China’s Sinovac was the first Covid vaccine to arrive in the Philippines both through government-to-government donation and commercial procurement, and it now tops the list of most welcomed and trusted Covid vaccines among Filipinos.
Even best friends have differences. The South China Sea issue is neither the keynote nor the sum total of our bilateral relations. The two sides should by no means allow this single dispute to derail the overall relations. Under the guidance of our two leaders, China and the Philippines have been dedicated to managing differences through friendly dialogues and consultations. The two countries have established mechanisms such as Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) to exchange views, enhance mutual trust and explore practical cooperation. With joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries including the Philippines, the consultation of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) is proceeding smoothly and effectively. As ships and planes carrying critical medical supplies sailing and flying over, the South China Sea is turning out to be a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation.
Next month China will commemorate the centenary of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The past century has witnessed the unprecedented development miracles created by the diligent Chinese people under the leadership of CPC. Especially since the convening of the 18th National Congress of the CPC, under the strong leadership of the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at the core, China has scored historic achievements in various undertakings. Against the backdrop of the global pandemic and the rising trend of uncertainty worldwide, China’s GDP kicked off with a good start of 18.3% year-on-year increase in the first quarter of this year. Facing the post-pandemic era, China will continue to uphold the idea of building a Community with a Shared Future for Mankind and further contribute to the global development and prosperity. We welcome neighboring countries including the Philippines to seize opportunities and take advantage of China’s development, expanding cooperation, jointly promoting the high-quality construction of the Belt and Road, so as to achieve prompt economy recovery and development in the long run.
Actions speak louder than words, and true friendship would withstand the test of time. Standing at the historical crossroads, though faced with global challenges such as the changing international situation and COVID-19 pandemic, we have every reason to believe that, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and President Duterte and with the concerted efforts from both governments and peoples, the two countries will forge an even closer China-Philippines comprehensive strategic cooperative relationship in the new era, and our friendship would shine brighter in the tempering of time.