WHAT makes the Philippine-China relations so distinct from the other countries that China had engaged with? Is it on account of its strategic navigational route that can spell the difference between victory and defeat in commerce and trade and armed conflict or it is simply on account of a special avuncular regard of the China leadership for the Philippines?
I found some answers in a free-wheeling discussion with Bai Tian, then deputy director-general at the Asian Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in China and in charge of Asean affairs. A group of Manila-based journalists I had the privilege to tag along with, visited his office in Beijing in September of 2015.
He was a bit emotional when he talked about the Philippines. He said that he stayed for a long time in the country and described how he relished his stay. He lamented why the Aquino mouthpieces created scenarios like China is a bully out to make war against the Philippines over the disputed islands. “You do not burn the house of your next door neighbor,” he intoned.
Indeed it is foolhardy for China to create conflict in the sea that unites the two countries. That is the only navigational route for China’s trade and is extremely important to sustain and strengthen its position as the 2nd biggest economy in the world. President Xi Jinping has adequately prepared for this economic and diplomatic thrusts. China established the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank and aside from this a couple of trillion dollars from the government’s coffers to back it up.
The West is not comfortable with this. Each time China’s OBOR anchors in a distant country it brings with it cheap loan package to finance infrastructure program, the Western press warned and dubbed this a potential “debt trap”. They have conveniently stonewalled the expensive loans that the West extends to countries it purports to help.
The Philippines though have yet to see the color of China’s much ballyhooed bundles of funds to finance the country’s Build, Build, Build program. Both the United States and China woo the Philippines for its vital location. The US however had always treated the Philippines like a mendicant that can be satisfied with a morsel.
I want to believe that China’s Supreme Leader is here to personally deliver a loan package for the 70 big ticket projects of the Duterte government valued at $35-billion. If this happens this event will mark the golden era of Philippines-China relations.
I do not know whether President Xi will be interested to see the bedroom of Duterte and the ever-present kolambo. Then maybe in his native art of diplomacy the President can tell Xi to open China’s market for more bananas and tuna from Davao. Wishful thinking for one who dwells in the boondocks of Mindanao? Libre ang mangarap. And this Mindanaowon also hopes that in this historic encounter between two leaders they would decide to convert those installations in disputed Scarborough shoal into one big marine laboratory manned by Filipino and Chinese scientists and then declare its perimeter a no fishing zone. This way the marine resource will be preserved, fishes can propagate for future generations.
Welcome Pres. Xi Jinping!