Sta. Romana: BRI offers broad prospects for China-Philippines cooperation

Jin Ling, Liu Mengya
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, 01 03, 2018 Sir, as you know, the 19th CPC National Congress determined the goals of China for a period to come. China will continue to pursue friendly neighborhood diplomacy to build a community with shared future. So at this new historical starting point, how should we ensure that relations between our two countries always develop in the right direction and maintain the peace, stability, development and prosperity of the South China Sea Area?


Romana: Well, I think, under President Duterte, the approach that he has followed can basically be summarized as follows: On the one hand, he upholds what is in the Philippine constitution, what we call an independent foreign policy. The key point here is to be friends to all, and be enemies to none. And so from my point of view, a major shift in the approach is not to put disputes at the center of relations, but rather to see that on the one hand, there will be challenges to the bilateral relations.

There is a whole area, that is non-contentious, in other words, where there are no disputes, whether trade, whether infrastructure, investment, science, technology, education, culture, agriculture. So the point is basically what President Duterte has done is to go on two tracks. The disputes, we put on one track, we put it aside. And then we try to fast track the areas where there are no disputes. And so we have the bilateral consultative mechanism set up between our two countries, between China and the Philippines. And we had the inaugural session last May, and the second one is due soon. So here, this is where we discuss in a calm, dispassionate manner, the sensitive issues.

And we also explore areas of how to manage the disputes, those we cannot solve right away. And so the key is to ease the tensions, and to manage the disputes. And this is what we are trying to do. And we have managed, I think, significantly over the past year, to ease the tensions, and to promote more cooperation, cooperation between the two coast guards, cooperation between the two navies, and the fishermen on both sides.

So, on the other hand, other areas of cooperation have gone at a fast clip in tourism, education, culture, and, you know, science. We have managed to normalize and restore all the bilateral mechanisms, in the fields of agriculture, foreign affairs, in the field of economics and trade, and recently in defense. So we are able to, on the one hand, normalize relations, on the other hand, put them, we have been able to put them on a higher plane. And I think the prospects are bright, we will be able to continue on this track and further improve relations. There will still be challenges, but as long as both sides are able to discuss this on the basis of sovereign equality, and mutual accommodation and benefit, I think it will be possible to continue and further boost the bilateral relations between our two countries. Sir, as the Ambassador to China, how do you envision the long term future of the relationship between our two countries?


Romana: Well, I think, from the point view of the Philippines, I think, the current administration under President Duterte has made it clear. That we start with the basic recognition, that our destiny belongs to Asia. One, because of our geography, and second because we have to first deal with our neighborhood. And so that is why we speak of ASEAN centrality, the centrality of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which we hold the chairmanship this year. And that is why the emphasis has been to further improve the unity among the ASEAN countries. But beyond that, we have to recognize that China is our biggest neighbor, and we have to deal with the central issue of how to live with China as a neighbor.

One on the basis of peaceful coexistence, but more than that, on the basis of promoting a friendly, cooperative relationship on the basis of sovereign equality and mutual benefit. And so, I think, the Philippines, for historical and cultural reasons in the past, have tended to be close to Spain, because Spain colonized us for centuries, for the U.S., which also colonized us for, since the beginning of the 21st century, and Japan also, because Japan is a neighboring country and we have good relations with Japan. But I think what the Philippines would like to do is to have more balance, not to depend on the west, not to depend on only one country, but to broaden and diversify its relationship. And included in this, is of course China. Because China is not only the biggest neighbor, it’s also a very big market.

And we have history that goes back actually, back several centuries, before the Spaniards came, before there was the formation of the Filipino nation, the Sultan of Sulu, which is in the southern Philippines, already developed friendly relations with the Chinese emperor during the Ming dynasty. And he would come here, and offer the pearls from the Sulu Sea, and other products from Mindanao, and offer this to the emperor, and the Chinese emperor in turn would also allow them to develop trading relationship. The Sultan of Sulu actually, on his way back to the Philippines during one of his trips here in 1417, died on his way home. He died near Shandong, and that’s why the emperor, gave him a tomb. He has a tomb in Dezhou, and this now has been renovated, it is like a small version of an imperial tomb. And because it is the 600th anniversary this year, it has become one of the points of interest, in terms of developing tourism, and people to people relationships, and sound Philippine historians as well as Chinese historians have been researching this topic. But the point I am making is that what we are doing is basically reviving the story, the long standing relationship. And we’d like to maintain our friendship with our traditional partners, in the recent past, as well to develop a new friendship and renew a historic friendship with China, and develop good relations with all the major powers, whether it would be the U.S., Japan, Russia, India, on the basis, of course, of ASEAN centrality, our immediate neighbors in Southeast Asia of course is the first priority for us.

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