The historic visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to The Philippines last week has already made a substantial impact on bilateral relations and looks set to secure a long-term economic partnership that will see The Philippines play its rightful role as a key member of the Belt and Road initiative. But beyond this, at a personal level Xi and Duterte appear to have reached a stage of friendship and professional understanding that will crucially underpin the nature of future ties between two maritime neighbours looking to reinvigorate historic ties which long predate the three colonial periods (Spain, the US, Japan) of The Philippines.
In something of a rare move, Xi wrote a personal letter to Duterte and the nation at large, expressing his gratitude for the hospitality he was shown during his crammed two-day visit. Xi stated,
“During the visit, I was once again deeply touched by your sincerity and determination to grow our bilateral relations and by the friendly sentiment of the Philippine people toward the Chinese people”.
Praising Duterte’s understanding of the manifold realities of modern geopolitical relations, the Chinese President wrote:
“I am also deeply impressed by your insight into China-Philippines relations and the current international situation, which proves once again that China and the Philippines are partners in a common journey toward peace and development”.
“During my visit, I had talks with you, and held meetings with House Speaker Gloria Arroyo and Senate President Vicente Sotto III. We had in-depth exchange of views, reached important agreement on our bilateral relations and issues of shared interest, and witness the signing of a series of cooperation documents. I am truly pleased with the fruitful outcomes of this visit…
“I set great store by China-Philippines relations and value my personal friendship with you, Mr. President. I will work with you to strengthen political mutual trust and deepen practical cooperation in all fields so that the tree of China-Philippines friendship will grow more luxuriant and bear more fruits”.
This is not the first time that the extent of the potent friendship between Duterte and Xi has been revealed. In May of this year, Duterte spoke of China as a true partner that would not allow enemies of The Philippines to succeed. As Duterte said at the time,
“China said, ‘We will protect you. We will not allow the Philippines to be destroyed. We are just here and you can call for our help anytime”.
During that same speech the Philippien President stated,
“So to this day, China and Russia has not asked me for a single piece of paper or pencil in return. And I told them that I’m not ready to enter into military alliances because we have this pact with the US. If I have a treaty with them, I cannot enter into other treaties.
…If America helps us, which I doubt, they have missiles. But foot soldiers? America is allergic to that. They have lost so many wars … She’s not going to protect us.
…When you talk to China or Russia, they keep their word, ‘We will be there.’ This America, this Italy … They are afraid to die”.
This process has been reciprocal as Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Lu Kang said the following in defence of Duterte earlier this year when UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein insultingly said that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte needed a “psychiatric evaluation”. According to Lu,
“Anyone without bias can see that President Duterte has made positive efforts since assuming office to combat drug-related crimes as well as terrorism, develop the national economy, and improve people’s livelihood, which have effectively protected and promoted the Philippine people’s fundamental rights to security and development”.
Lu further called on the UN to “respect the sovereignty of the Philippines and the will of its people, view the outcomes of the Philippines’ fight against drugs and terrorism in a comprehensive, unbiased and objective way, and support its efforts to move forward its human rights cause in light of its national conditions”. Lu also stated,
“As an agency of the UN, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is expected to fulfil its duties within the framework set out by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter”.
Therefore, it is clear that the process of improving Chinese-Philippine relations that begun shortly after Duterte became President of his nation in 2016 has been a rapidly evolving one that has now culminated in President Xi expressing his sincere gratitude and commitment to President Duterte and The Philippines after a visit widely hailed as not just a success but a breakthrough.
Once again, Duterte has himself proved that he is a master of win-win diplomacy in an age where friendship with as many nations as possible and hostility towards none is the surest way to secure a moderately prosperous future for any nation – but especially one like The Philippines that for decades has economically lagged behind many of its ASEAN colleagues.
Below is Eurasia Future’s full report on Xi Jinping’s recently concluded visit to The Philippines
When The Philippines became a legally independent state in 1946, China was still in the midst of a bloody Civil War that had resumed in earnest as soon as the brutal Japanese occupation ended. But while both The Philippines and China suffered at the hands of the Japanese, by 1949 when the Communist factions won the Chinese Civil War, it was widely believed that The Philippines would long be a shining example of economic prosperity in Asia while China would continue to suffer further economic humiliation in the second half of the 20th century.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s The Philippines remained economically ahead of not only China but of most other regional powers in terms of economic and infrastructural development. Yet by the end of the 20th century, the story in both countries had shifted dramatically. The 1980s marked a particular turning point for both China and The Philippines. It was after Deng Xiaoping’s reforms of 1978 that China began to open up her economy to the wider world through the adoption of the market socialist system that encouraged domestic enterprise, rapid industrialisation, foreign direct investment and increased connectivity to new economic partners. By contrast, in 1987 after the Philippine Liberal Party took power and authored a new Constitution, The Philippines adopted a reactionary form of economic nationalism that restricted free trade, foreign direct investment and economic modernisation – this in spite of the fact that technically The Philippines remained a capitalist society while China remained under the rule of the Communist Party.
As a result, the economy of The Philippines continued to fall behind not only China but other ASEAN nations that increasingly followed the modern Chinese model for economic openness, while China itself overtook the United States as the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). In terms of diplomatic relations, China and The Philippines also faced difficult times with the Presidency of Noynoy Aquino being a particularly worrisome period for those wishing to see peace prevail throughout the region.
Duterte walks through China’s open door with dignity
When reformist Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in 2016, he came to power with a mandate to increase trade with the wider world while ceasing all hostilities with fellow Asian powers. Duterte also continues to maintain the supreme goal of restoring the social peace and human prosperity that once defined The Philippines, even though the country has sadly been defined by much the opposite in recent decades.
It was with this mentality that Duterte first met Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2016. It was in 2016 that Xi declared a new “golden era” of relations between the two countries. The following year, the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea or BCM was initiated as part of a long term joint cooperation initiative between Manila and Beijing to mutually exploit the resources of nearby South China Sea waters. Then in the summer of 2018 at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Conference in Singapore, ASEAN and China signed the Code of Conduct (COC) for dialogue based diplomatic and win-win economic solutions to remaining disputes in the South China Sea.
This year saw the process of Chinese-Philippine reconciliation reach new heights as Xi paid an historic visit to The Philippines. The looks on the faces of President Duterte and Xi throughout the latter’s two day state visit spoke of something vastly more profound than just a summit where economic and logistical issues would be discussed. Both men knew that the weight of destiny was on their shoulders and as expected both men delivered a dignified response to the challenges that history had set for them.
Not only was Xi’s visit to The Philippines the most important diplomatic event of President Duterte’s political career but it was quite frankly the most important diplomatic occurrence in The Philippines since independence was achieved in 1946.
President Xi described the meeting with Duterte as the “rainbow after the rain” in which new opportunities for shared prosperity and a bright peaceful future have replaced years of mistrust and hostility. In a matter of twenty-four hours, Duterte made it clear that while his predecessors and his direct predecessor in particular actually sought to provoke policies which indicated a preference of war over peace among Asian nations, Duterte seeks to embrace the modern mentality of win-win relations that sees the country expanding friendships with all while provoking hostility towards none.
Rejecting the Cold War mentality and embracing pan-Asian harmonious relations
Given the diverse history of both nations, it was nothing short of a crime against humanity that previous Philippine leaders engaged in geopolitical gangsterism with larger and more powerful neighbours in a fit of Cold War style hyper-nationalism that put the prosperity and lives of millions at risk. In an age defined by the power of peace through prosperity, the irresponsible policies of Duterte’s immediate predecessor that threatened China over pieces of territory that for centuries had been ignored by multiple nations not only stunk of supreme irresponsibility but of a delusional disconnect from reality.
The reality is that in the 21st century, no Asian nation should ever make war upon a fellow Asian nation. Instead trade should be the focus of mutual partnerships while respectful dialogue must be the only course taken to resolve any lingering disputes. Not only did Duterte and Xi agree to these mature principles of statesmanship but Xi pointed out the historic connections between great moments in Chinese and Philippine history which serves as a basis for today’s healthy relations.
“China and the Philippines are neighbours facing each other across the sea. The exchange of ships and merchants between our two countries began more than a thousand years ago. Over 600 years ago, Chinese navigator Zheng He made multiple visits to the Manila Bay, Visayas and Sulu on his seven overseas voyages seeking friendship and cooperation. The King of Sulu also made a goodwill visit to China, bringing with him good wishes to the Chinese people and leaving behind touching stories of China-Philippine friendship. Many born on the southeast coast of China sailed across the sea to settle down in the Philippines and have since lived in harmony with the local community. The ancestors of Jose Rizal, national hero and founding father of the Philippines, came from Jinjiang of China’s Fujian Province. The famed Chinese General Ye Fei, who fought for the founding of New China, was born in Quezon of the Philippines. For both our peoples, these are proud names to remember.
Since President Duterte took office, China and the Philippines have reengaged in dialogue and consultation for the proper handling of the South China Sea issue. Our relations have now seen a rainbow after the rain. In just a little more than two years, China has become the Philippines’ largest trading partner, largest export market and largest source of imports, and the second largest source of tourists. There has been a surge of interest for private investment in each other’s countries, and interactions between our cultural groups have been frequent. More and more Philippine fruits are coming to the dining table in Chinese households, and a growing number of Philippine scenic spots are being included in the itinerary of Chinese tourists. China firmly supports the Philippines’ fight against drugs and terrorism and its post-conflict reconstruction efforts in Marawi, thus contributing to peace in the country. In the face of disasters, our two peoples have stood together and come to each other’s help, writing new chapters of friendship between our two countries”.
Thurs, it became clear from Xi’s words that his visit to The Philippines was more than business as usual. Instead, the visit was tantamount to reviving the spirit of fraternal relations between peoples linked by history and maritime geography in order to maximise the potential of a partnership that can help to realise the shared goal of Chinese and Filipinos to build a modern moderately prosperous society into the 21st century and beyond. By invoking the history of Jose Rizal in particular, Xi made it clear that he shares a profound interest in Philippine history and is aware of important junctures where the Philippine struggle for liberation converged with similar struggles of Chinese and their national heroes.
Transforming the South China Sea into a place of shared good will and shared prosperity
Largely of his own volition, Rodrigo Duterte has transformed his country’s role in the South China Sea from one of unilateral antagonist to one of multilateral peace marker. In 2017, Duterte established the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea or BCM as part of a long term joint cooperation initiative between Manila and Beijing to mutually exploit the resources of nearby South China Sea waters. Then in the summer of 2018 at the ASEAN Foreign Ministers Conference in Singapore, ASEAN and China signed the Code of Conduct (COC) for dialogue based diplomatic and win-win economic solutions to remaining disputes in the South China Sea that is inherently based on the letter and spirit of Duterte’s BCM.
The Philippines has begun its chairmanship of ASEAN’s China outreach programme in an historic shift that has seen The Philippines become a pioneer of multilateral problem solving that looks to satisfy the concerns of all parties to disputes in the South China Sea. China has clearly recognised this important transformation in The Philippines and has responded accordingly by greeting President Duterte with the respect deserving of a man with a clear purpose and international mandate to make peace and create prosperity.
In so far as this is the case, rather than use The Permanent Court of Arbitration’s 2016 ruling on the South China Sea as a means of creating further tensions with China, Duterte has instead decided to invoke the legal procedure know as performance to demonstrate that Manila interprets the significance of the Hague Court’s ruling to be one that will allow The Philippines to approach China with dignity and commence a new process of businesslike shared resource exploration and exploitation in the South China Sea so that a nation with mechanical resources like China can help a developing nation like The Philippines to make the most of territory that would otherwise remain physically deadlocked had a hostile interpretation of the court’s ruling been invoked by The Philippines.
While war over disputed territories would be a symptom of insanity and stalemate would be to one single nation’s benefit, instead Xi and Duterte have signed multiple agreements to jointly share in gas and oil exploration in the region. As a poorer nation than China, the profits from such an agreement are even more important for The Philippines than for its Chinese partner.
29 major deals
In addition to historic agreements regarding peaceful economic cooperation in the South China Sea and profit sharing from joint oil and gas exploration initiatives, other major agreements inked between China and The Philippines that Xi called a “milestone in the history of exchange” included:
–a joint commitment to work towards the peaceful development of the Belt and Road initiative
–an MOU on Renminbi cleaning in bilateral deal making
–Agreements to work towards conducting bilateral trade in national currencies
–agreement to discuss Philippine National South Longhaul Project North-South Railway Project as a joint initiative
–an agreement for China to begin substantial consultations regarding investment in the redevelopment of Marawi
–a statement of interest regarding Chinese involvement in the Davao River Bridge Project
–a statement exploring possibility of Chinese cooperation in Davao City Expressway project
–a statement exploring possibility of cooperation in Panay-Guimaras-Negros islands bridges project
–a broad infrastructure cooperation programme between the two nations
–an MOU between the Department of Information and Communication Technology and Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of China
–joint initiatives on the mutual development of industrial parks
— an MOU on jointly promoting the cooperation in key infrastructure projects in Davao region between the Philippines’ Department of Finance and Ministry of Commerce of China
–agreements to enhance educational cooperation
–agreements on the expansion of cultural exchange initiatives
–an MOU between the Cooperative Development Authority of the Philippines and Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs of China on strengthening the building of agricultural cooperatives
–an humanitarian cash assistance agreement
–expansion of so-called panda bond cooperation agreements
–new loan agreement for New Centennial Water Source Kaliwa Dam Project
— agreement for industrial park between the Bases Conversion and Development Authority and Gezhouba
–joint banking agreements
–joint agricultural agreements
The weight of Xi’s visit to The Philippines, in addition to inaugurating a new era in relations between nearby countries whose relations were previously artificially strained for too long by devious political fiends, was all the more important as it affirmed that The Philippines is now a serious broker for pan-Asian peace and reconciliation. By leading ASEAN’s push to welcome a new era of cooperation with China, Duterte is a man sought by China as their first among many friends in south east Asia while for The Philippines China remains the most vital economic partner in sustainable development and will. only become more important to The Philippines in coming decades. This win-win relationship based on mutual respect is not just one for Duterte and Xi but one of the ages. More importantly it is one that the Chinese and Filipino people have awaited for decades. After many years in the wilderness, the aspirations of two peoples towards peace and prosperity has been achieved and this is merely the beginning of what looks to be a long, sustained and prosperous relationship between two nations with a common destiny.