Chinese FM’s visit expected to kick-start China-Philippine relations in new era
Published: Jul 05, 2022 11:29 PM
China and Philippine Photo: CFP

China and Philippines Photo: CFP

China's senior diplomat Wang Yi on Tuesday kicked off a two-day visit to the Philippines, being the first foreign minister to be received by the new Philippine government and the second senior Chinese official to visit the country following the new Philippine presidential inauguration. 

Chinese analysts said it shows China attaches great importance to China-Philippine relations in the era of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Romualdez Marcos Jr.  And the visit will pave the way for a future meeting between the countries' top leaders. 

The visit, coming amid the US' attempts to woo the Philippines to join its clique to contain China as well as hype by some foreign media on the South China Sea issue, is expected to showcase to the world that China-Philippine relations are more sound than they thought and will witness more cooperation with divergences well under control, they said.  

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi is scheduled to arrive in Manila on Tuesday night and start his two-day visit upon the invitation of Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo.

According to the Department of Foreign Affairs, Wang and Manalo are set to meet and they will discuss a wide range of issues, focusing on maintaining and building on the positive trend of relations between the Philippines and China.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said on  Facebook on Monday that Wang's visit fully reflects "how China attaches importance to the two countries' relations."

The relevant touch points of the Vice President and the Foreign Minister's official visits are healthy indicators that signal our progressive relations with the Philippines as a new presidency begins, Huang said. 

"Vice President Wang Qishan's relay of President Xi Jinping's congratulatory letter, attendance in the inauguration ceremony and courtesy calls signified enhanced political mutual trust, profound friendship, and continued cooperation between our countries," Huang said, hoping the visits would kick-start China-Philippine relations in the new era.

 "During the visit, Wang Yi will pay a courtesy call on Marcos Jr. and is expected to reach important consensus with Manalo on some important cooperation mechanisms and projects," Chen Xiangmiao, an assistant research fellow at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

On the same day, Ambassador Huang announced on Facebook another milestone for   Philippine-China G2G cooperation as China and the Philippines  signed the commercial contract of the Consulting Services for the Conduct of Detailed Engineering Design and Construction Supervision of the Davao River Bridge. 

The China Aid Localized Project for Davao River Bridge (Bucana Bridge), located at the estuary of Davao River in Davao city, is dual 2-lanes with a total length of around 1,340 meters. Once completed, it will largely alleviate the east-west traffic congestion in the coastal areas of the city and divert about 35,000 vehicles every day, tremendously improve travel efficiency and help boost the rapid development of the local economy. It is estimated that 300 to 500 local people will be employed during the peak construction period.

A top agenda that attracts world attention is the South China Sea issue, with many overseas media speculating whether it will create discord during Wang's visit. 

"Manalo, a veteran diplomat, has rich experience in dealing with the South China Sea issue and should know clearly that it is unwise to provoke China as promoting cooperation in the sea with divergences controlled and stable situation maintained should be the right way," Chen said. 

Manalo is widely expected to handle the South China Sea and other diplomatic negotiations with China, a top donor to the country during the administration of former President Rodrigo Duterte.

Manalo served as the Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York. Prior to that, he was undersecretary for policy at the Department of Foreign Affairs. 

In April 2016, senior officials of ASEAN Member States, including Manalo, the then Philippine Foreign Undersecretary for Policy and China, met in Singapore for the 11th ASEAN-China Senior Officials' Meeting on the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (SOM-DOC) and the 22nd ASEAN-China Senior Officials' Consultations (ACSOC).     

At the SOM-DOC, the senior officials discussed ongoing efforts related to the full and effective implementation of the DOC, including early harvest measures, projects, seminars and workshops, and exchanged views on how to expedite the ongoing consultations toward the conclusion of an effective and meaningful Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea. 

"How to avoid causing risks in the South China Sea should be the consensus between the  foreign ministers," Chen said. 

The South China Sea is an issue that China and the Philippines cannot bypass and also an important factor challenging the bilateral issue, the expert said.  "But the issue is only a small knot in the large bilateral bond and no matter the new president or the new administration, they know taking a stable stance is the right choice." 

In a news briefing ahead of his meeting with Wang, Marcos Jr. said he wanted his country's relationship with China to go beyond disputes over parts of the South China Sea issue, as he sought to "strengthen ties between China and the Philippines."

Earlier in June, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman announced that Marcos Jr. would be "welcome" to the US given his diplomatic immunity as a head of state in her visit to Asia. This simply marked a complete reversal of the 1986 "regime change" of the US against the elder Marcos.

The day after Sherman's visit, Marcos showed whom he and the Philippines consider the real bosom mate of the country. In an extravaganza of the Association for Philippines-China Understanding (APCU), he declared China to be the Philippines' "strongest partner" from among the community of nations in terms of recovering economically from COVID-19.

 "Some international observers said China and the US are in a competition to draw the Philippines to its side. This is misleading. As a country which has a long history in meddling the Philippines' internal politics, the US has always and will continue treating the Southeast Asia country as its pawn," Chen said. 

However, what China has been caring about is how to prevent the country from being impacted by the power change and how to achieve mutual cooperation and development through constructive dialogue, the expert said.