NEWLY-installed Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian has reason to be happy and hopeful that many things are turning out right in his recent assignment, Manila. Huang exuded cheerfulness at the Chinese embassy’s recent reception for their traditional Spring Festival or Chinese New Year, which doubled as a welcome party for the youthful and energetic envoy.
On this occasion, Huang conveyed his government’s appreciation and gratitude to Filipinos who have been actively supporting the “sustained, sound, and stable growth” of Philippines-China relations, with special mention of the Chinese-Filipino community in Manila.
Huang is somewhat lucky because his tour of duty in Manila coincided with the presidency of Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who from the very start made it clear that the foreign path the Philippines will adopt under his watch will be an “independent foreign policy.” In other words, the country will be friends to all and an enemy to no one. Going further, this declaration of policy carries with it the practical truth that the Philippines will no longer be acting as if it is fettered by strings that are tightly held by the United States of America, its former colonial master.
It is to the credit of President Duterte and China President Xi Jinping that the two nations now enjoy relative calm and contentment under the principle of mutual accommodation, even if the irritants concerning sea boundaries still exist. The two meetings of Duterte and Xi last year further reinforced the strategic course for the steady growth of Philippines-China relations, as cited by Ambassador Huang last week.
In the past one and half months since the ambassador arrived in Manila, he has extensively engaged with Filipino national government officials, party leaders of the PDP-Laban, media personalities, local government officials and members of Congress, and he said he clearly felt the warmth of friendship and cooperation of those he initially met. “It was like awarding me a grand entry,” Huang laughed.
The ambassador seemed ready to build further on the accomplishments of his predecessor, who hurdled every diplomatic challenge thrown at him by opponents of China both locally and abroad. With a couple of years more left in the Duterte administration, Huang and Duterte may be able to provide inspiration and guidance in completing all the big-ticket projects being financed by China in the country. These projects are intended to provide sufficient water for Metro Manila in the future, ease Metro traffic through the construction of more bridges, railway systems, and traffic management technology, provide a solution for such problems as lack of electricity, expensive, inadequate and inefficient internet and cellphone services, etc. It may be noted that the two countries are actively synergizing China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative and the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build program.
This early in the day, palpable gains have been achieved in President Duterte’s pivot to China and adoption of an independent foreign policy, such as our giant neighbor’s being the current top trading partner of the country, one of its largest investors, and the second-largest source of tourists. Last year alone, more than 1.5 million Chinese visited the Philippines, boosting tourism and thereby creating jobs both in cities and the rural areas, it was noted by the ambassador.
With the South China Sea issue remaining as a bone of contention, Huang noted the important developments in the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM) and the consultation on the Code of Conduct (COC) under the leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). With the Philippines as the country coordinator of the China-ASEAN dialogue, the talks on the COC have been steadily moving forward, contributing to the peace and stability of the region and beyond.
Ambassador Huang’s Spring Festival this year looks especially joyous and rosy-green and the Philippines-China relations are bound to be stronger to benefit both nations.