Last December 12, 2022 seventeen scholars from the Philippines and China gathered at the Ateneo de Manila, Leong Hall, to discuss “Philippine-China Relations: Opportunities and Challenges” the relationship offers to the two Asian nations. This is a brief on what transpired.
I attended in behalf of the think tank Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI) to listen and observe, and ask questions, to all of the speakers, particularly the Chinese scholars Dr. Dai Fan, Dr. Yan Yan and Dr. Li Yuanxin.
The Chinese scholars who are worthy of special mention here as they are rare scholar-visitors from China and come respectively from Jinan University and its Center for Philippine Studies, the National Institute for south China Sea Studies and Nanjing University of Science and Technology.
At this point I have to clarify something, Dr. Dai Fan could not make it to the country and the symposium due to two very unexpected events, first a mix-up of his name with Interpol records of some fugitive followed by a bout of mild Covid while still in China. I kept in touch with Dr. Dai via WeChat.
Other speakers who were all very informative and profound were Atty. Engelbert C. Caronan, Jr. of the Development Academy of the Philippines speaking of healing and cooperation through the heritage paradigm, followed by Ms. Ana GM B Abejuela of the Philippine Embassy in Beijing discussing the any fruits of the bilateral relations.
Dr. Marvin M. Cinense of the 22-years old Phil-Sino Center for Agri-Technology (PhilSCAT) on the hybrid rice project of the two countries, Dr. Gezzez Glezi of the UST on the Tourism Interconnection between the Philippines and China and expressing the aim of 1.-million Chinese tourists for the year to come.
Dr. Aaron Jed Rabena of the APPPPFI on China-RP relations in the Duterte administration and its implications I thought was splendid, and Dr. Robin Michael U. Garcia of the UAP on the Evolution of Philippine Foreign Policy from Duterte to Marcos which was a mediocrity full of prattle against China.
The second panel was Dr. Diana J. Mendoza of the Ateneo on Phil-China relations on the BIMP-EAGA, Mr. Joshua C. Agpaoa of Jinan University on Philippine Independent Foreign Policy: roles and prospects on China-US Relations, and Mr. Lucio B. Pitlo III of the APPPFI on Big Powers Competition and Phil-China relations.
Panel III had Ms. Jane T. Yugioksing on New Chinese Migrants in the Philippines, Dr. Li Yuanzin on China’s image in Philippines media, Dr. Rommel Banlaoi on Sinophobia in the Philippines current state of the relations, Dr. Jan Robert R. Go of the U.P. on the Pandemic and Beyond: Lessons for Community Experiences from Quezon and Wuhan.
The final four were no less interesting but which I had to miss, Dr. Francisco V. Navarro of the Ateneo on Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Pandemic, and Dr. Arnusharief Hassiman of the House of Zhejiu on TCM: A Nurturing Pill of Sino-Fil Friendship. I had to miss the last four due to pressing matters across the city.
This article is not long enough to cover each and every presentation in detail so we will select the most informative and striking ones that open new insights into Philippine-China relations through the past to the present.
Particularly informative was Ms. Ana Abejuela’s report from Beijing through Zoom enumerating and summarizing the many projects and trade prospects the Philippines is enjoying with China. PhilSCAT is really interesting as it has been around for over two decades and immensely benefits our rice agriculture wit hybrid varieties developed with Chinese technology.
Dr. Rabena gave a very detailed report on China’s concretely delivery on its commitments of funds and infrastructure projects citing the Davao-Samal bridge, the Chico river irrigation dam, the Metro-Manila bridges over Pasig River and more in the pipeline. Mr. Agpaoa and Pitlo III gave thorough and balanced coverage of Philippine foreign policy issues amidst the US-China face-off.
I want to put focus on the two power point presentations of the two present Chinese scholars, the first by Dr. Yan Yan which identified and enumerated the many bilateral projects between the Philippines and China towards building understanding and cooperation.
Dr. Yan’s presentation is entitled “DOC 20 years and UNCLOS 40 years: A Review of China-Philippines Relations, Opportunities and Challenges. She goes through the decades of initiative that have step-by-step achieved the present state of effective dialogue and communication that have maintained productive harmony between the two nations despite SCS disputes.
Dr. Yan explained that China’s initiative on this score is pursuant to UNCLOS Article 123 mandating coordination of various activities among claimant states in exploration, protection of marine environment, scientific research, while the Declaration of Conduct calls for cooperation on safety of navigation and communication, search and rescue combatting crime cooperatively.
Dr. Yan provided a timeline of the Code of conduct evolution from 1992 to 2018, and from 2020 to the present going through nearly a dozen regional and bilateral meetings to achieve understanding and agreements. Maritime cooperation activities followed ranging from opening of maritime hotlines to a China-ASEAN Joint Naval Drill and China-ASEAN Search and Rescue Drill.
China-Philippines Maritime Cooperation, annual Bilateral Consultative Meetings from the first in 2017 to the 7th in July 2022 where President Marcos, Jr. met with Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi. Chin-Philippines Coast Guard Maritime Cooperation Joint Committee meetings from 2016 to the present were presented.
It is well nigh impossible to imagine the density of cooperation and dialogue activities between China and the Philippines, as well as China and ASEAN without the help of the paper as put together by Dr. Yan Yan to catalogue the flurry of activities every year over the decades to achieve the peace and stability that we all see in the SCS.
The second is the study by Dr. Li Yuanxin of Nanjing University of “China’s Image In Philippine Media: A Comparative Perspective” with her 12 slide power point presentation that traces the rich potential of Philippine-China relations, Philippine Media coverage of China under the present administration and a comparison of China and the USA in Philippine News.
Dr. Lil found that Philippines-China relations have been dominated by territorial disputes while the relations have actually the potential to be “one of the strongest partnerships” in trade, agriculture, infrastructure, energy, education and people-to-people exchanges. Most of the news reviewed came from the Inquirer, Philstar and the Manila Times.
Comparing USA and China news coverage Ms. Li Yuanxin gathered a total of 17,494 news items from June 30 to November 11, 2022 and reports around a 10% numerical advantage for the USA but also 23% and 20% overlaps between USA and China-related coverage. China-related coverage and USA-related overlaps increased in August during the Pelosi Taiwan visit.
Dr. Li concluded the three newspapers chosen for the study “put almost the same attention to the China issue:, China-related coverage is narrower and “scant attention to China’s role in international politics” and that “Philippine media might dedicate more coverage to the US actions in China-related Asian issues.”
Last but not least is the organizer of the event who cold not make it to Manila, Dr. Dai Fan of Jinan University’s Center for Philippine Studies whom I communicated with via WeChat after the symposium, I asked for his message:
“I just (to) give a closing remarks, I hope scholars can make a great role in promoting mutual understanding between China and the Philippines. I also hope more Filipino can come to China to travel or study through which to improve their knowledge about China, as a rising country, CHINA really can help the Philippines in many fields.”
During the question-and-answer breaks I raised my hand to query Mr. Agpaoa and Mr. Lucio Pitlo III about the very frequently quoted Philippine foreign policy dictum (that has become a cliché), “the Philippines is a friend to all and enemy to none” but then harbor the warmonger of the century, the US, in its backyard and have war drills everybody knows is aimed at China.
The answers from Agpaoa and Pitlo III were both indistinct, hampered by the real contradiction. During a coffee break I asked the two again about the Philippines anchoring its claim on the “arbitration award” when even the Stefan Dujarric in 2016 after the Hague “award” said, “’The UN doesn’t have a position on the legal and procedural merits’ of the South China Sea arbitration case.” The symposium organized by the Ateneo Chinese Studies program with the Jinan University’s Center for Philippine Studies was indeed, as its flyer said, “a space for dialogue and exchange between scholars, practitioners, and experts in diverse but interrelated fields” on China-Philippine relations. We should have more of it ventilated by mainstream media.