The Philippines needs healthy China ties rather than US military bases for economic recovery
Published: Feb 07, 2024 07:47 PM
China Philippines photo:VCG

China Philippines photo:VCG

The recent Chinese Embassy Lunar New Year reception on February 2 highlighted the upbeat mood and the public's desire in Manila for renewed friendly and constructive ties between Manila and Beijing. I arrived early and immediately saw Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian waiting to receive guests. I congratulated him on the diplomatic success of the Chinese diplomatic corps in calmingly navigating the turbulent waters of 2023 between the Philippines and China.

Not long after a telephone conversation between Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Philippine Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs Enrique A. Manalo in December 2023, the Eighth Meeting of the China-Philippines Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea was successfully held in mid-January 2024. Wang advised his counterpart that the Philippines must act with caution as relations between the two countries were already at a crossroads. 

At the beginning of the year of the Dragon, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs to some extent returned to public diplomatic reticence, refrained from megaphone diplomacy, and agreed on bilateral consultation mechanism to clarify controversies and resolve differences through dialogue and constructive resolutions. Despite this, observers generally believe the year of 2024 will very likely continue to see more disputes between China and the Philippines over the South China Sea, particularly with the interference from the US. 

It was the grandest Embassy Lunar New Year celebration I have seen in over a decade of attending the event. This one was graced by the Vice President of the Philippine Sara Duterte via a video message, and the First Lady of the Republic Louise Araneta-Marcos as a significant symbol of goodwill and friendship. While we are not starry-eyed to think that there are no challenges ahead, the latter is a good sign that efforts will be made to continue the revival of good relations.

The good news accompanying the Lunar New Year celebrations in Manila is the reaffirmation of China's commitment to the joint oil and gas development deal with the Philippines, a project that the Philippines direly needs to see through to fill its desperate energy supply and address the country's self-sufficiency needs in the coming decade. Vested interests tied to the collective West have been hindering this project but newly reinvigorated Philippines-China relations could help overcome this.

In my interactions with national governance movers in the Philippines, I have received petitions from provincial communities anxious for a return of good China-Philippines ties. For example, the community and provincial leaders of the Province of Kalinga are seeking to revive an irrigation and hydro-electric project that is currently in limbo due to the suspension of many infrastructure projects. I have brought their petitions to the attention of the Chinese Embassy in Manila. 

Governor Manuel Mamba of Cagayan, the Philippines' northernmost province and closest to Taiwan island, said recently he was deeply impressed by China's governance and believes the Philippines and China are eternal neighbors and must make bilateral relations a success.

In a very meaningful public opinion survey released in July 2023 by one of the few credible polling institutions here, Pulse Asia reported that 63 percent of the Filipinos surveyed are concerned with inflation. Ranking second is the issue of increasing workers' pay, with 44 percent expressing concern, followed by creating more jobs (31 percent) and reducing poverty (30 percent), respectively. Only 6 percent of the population is concerned with the territorial issues. The Filipino nation is in need of the economic recovery through China's trade and imports, as well as assistance for the development of the infrastructure program "Build, Build, Build." The country does not need more US military bases.

On January 3, 2023, President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. made his state visit to China, during which he reaffirmed the oil and gas joint exploration deal and confirmed dozens of Belt and Road Initiative investments. The general public in the Philippines are expecting China-Philippine relations, which were disrupted by a year of US-triggered intrigues, to resume and the Year of the Dragon will truly be a year of progress and prosperity driven by China's IMF-confirmed economic rebound. 

The author is founder of a Manila-based think tank Philippine BRICS Strategic Studies. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn