THERE are two ways at looking at Chinese presence in the Philippines. One is positively, with a smile of amity and hope, and friendship that dates back to the time of Philippine revolution against Spain and even farther back, in the time of Chinese merchants trading with natives in Princess Urduja’s Pangasinan.
Another is seeing our Chinese relationship with a more skeptic, sinister eye.
For instance, the sounding of the alarm bells on Chinese vessel straying into the Benham Rise territory east of Aurora province, well into the international waters of the Pacific Ocean, should not have merited any serious notice had not Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana added a ominous spin on this piece of news.
Asked by a reporter to comment on Bentham Rise, Duterte nonchalantly talked about the arbitration court’s decision favoring the Philippines in its claim in South China Sea, which he had earlier told Chinese officials he would not yet discuss, much less enforce, unmindful that the Bentham Rise is in the Pacific. To Duterte, all these talks about territorial disputes with China are generically the same: we cannot just enforce our claim despite favorable United Nations decisions. China is too strong an adversary in any modern conflict.
So Duterte is content with going the way of amiable and warm relationship with China, more so because this giant neighbor has shown magnanimity and fraternal friendship to Filipinos in concrete terms. The President has assured that China informed the Philippine government about its passage in the Bentham Rise area, and we are within out rights to ask what they are doing there.
This issue should not be made more serious than what it really is, the President said. What is more important to him, and to all Filipinos, are the tangible projects and trade agreements with China which are now in the pipeline.
First was the successful visit by Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan last year which resulted in the signing of agreements for the implementation of the Chico River pump irrigation project, new centennial water source Kaliwa Dam project, and the $3-billion North-South Railway-South Line. These projects have a total worth of P170 billion.
Also in the works are the construction of the Binondo-Intramuros and Estrella-Pantaleon Bridges that are expected to ease traffic in Metro Manila, and a modern sports complex to replace the decrepit Rizal Memorial Stadium. As we write, personnel of the Philippine Coast Guard are preparing for an intensive training program in China.
This month, Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang will arrive and visit President Duterte in Davao City. He will sign a $1-billion purchase agreement for Philippine banana, pineapple, durian, avocado, coconut, mango, dragon fruit, mangosteen, marang, coffee, rice, cacao, fish, chicken and duck meats, among others.
The Vice Premier will also sign deals for $10-billion letters of intent for business projects by Chinese investors and the Six-Year Development Program for Economic and Trade Cooperation (SYDP).
Vice Premier Wang Yang will also hand over a $1-billion donation for the rehabilitation of Surigao province which was struck by a 6.7 magnitude earthquake.
President Duterte is correct in pursuing the win-win mode of trust and cooperation with China, a relationship that has endured thru the centuries. His primary concern is what Filipinos may palpably gain from this relationship, which is the pragmatic path to take.