AMBASSADOR Zhao Jianhua has expressed optimism that China would be able to bring 2 million tourists to the country yearly by the middle of 2020, even as he stressed that Beijing has emerged as a top investor with $66.62 million in foreign direct investment to the Philippines, or nearly a 12.5-percent increase from 2017.
The envoy said China has participated in more than a dozen of the flagship infrastructure projects under the Build, Build, Build (BBB) infrastructure program, adding that other projects in the pipeline would be completed in the next few years.
The Philippines and China, he said, are good neighbors, sincere friends and trusted partners. “Under the strategic guidance of President Xi Jinping and President Duterte, China-Philippine relations have moved forward steadily and have delivered tangible outcomes,” Zhao said, assuring that China is committed to sharing the benefits of development with the Philippines.
During President Rodrigo Duterte’s fifth visit to Beijing last month, Zhao said during the recent 70th founding anniversary celebration of The People’s Republic of China at a Makati hotel, “both sides once again reached important consensus on deepening mutually beneficial cooperation in various fields and boosting our common development.”
As a good neighbor, good partner and a good friend of the Philippines, Zhao said, China has provided RMB 2.75 billion (around $398 million) in grants and $273 million of soft loans to the Philippines to support its BBB program, and another RMB 3 billion (around $421 million) in grant will be further provided from 2019 to 2022.
Two drug-rehab centers funded by China in Agusan del Sur province and Sarangani province have provided 800 jobs for locals and will cater at least 300 patients, Zhao said.
“The Chinese-funded solar projects in the province of Zambales have also brought electricity to more than 1,000 local residents and two primary schools and will brighten up even more remote Philippine villages,” he said.
China has also funded the construction of 13 schools in Davao city, which will provide 52 classrooms for more than 2000 students.
“We are also ready to send experts to the Philippines to transfer agricultural and fishery technology, so that the Philippine farmers and fishermen can directly enjoy the dividends of China-Philippine relations,” Zhao added.
“In 2018, 150 million Chinese citizens traveled abroad and spent $120 billion,” Zhao said. “In the first half year of 2019, around 798,000 tons of Philippine bananas were exported to China, now the largest export market for Philippine bananas, bringing income of $345 million to the Philippines.”
‘Top trading partner’
“China is now the Philippines’ top trading partner, the largest source of imports and exports market as well as the second largest tourist source,” he added. “In 2018, our bilateral trade volume reached $55.7 billion an 8.5 percent year-on-year increase.”
He added that the Chico River Pump Irrigation, New Centennial Water Source, Kaliwa Dam, and the Philippine National Railway’s South Long Haul are being pushed forward at a steady pace, “and will contribute to the development of agriculture and transportation in the Philippines.”
To contribute to regional peace and stability with the Philippines, he assured that the South China Sea would remain open to commerce, saying more than 60 percent of China’s foreign trade and energy supplies pass through the strategic waterway.
“So China has a greater stake in safeguarding the peace and stability of the South China Sea than any other country,” he stressed.
South China Sea
Despite the differences between Manila and Beijing over the South China Sea, Zhao said, “It is our belief that South China Sea issue is not the sum total of China-Philippine relations, nor disputes the sum total of South China Sea issue.”
He said China would like to work together with the Philippines and give full play to existing mechanisms such as the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea (BCM) and Joint Coast Guard Committee (JCGC) to properly manage differences.
“We would also like to make concerted efforts with the Philippines to promote substantial progress of the joint exploration of oil and gas,” he added.
President Duterte announced recently that Manila is finalizing the draft a joint hydrocarbon exploration agreement with China in the Recto Bank (Reed Bank), with both sides trying to agree on a 60-40 agreement, the larger share belonging to the Philippines, which is stipulated in our Constitution in so far as foreign joint ventures are concerned.
Zhao said China will continue to support the Philippines as country coordinator of China-Asean dialogue relations. “And it is our hope that during the Philippines’ tenure, Code of Conduct consultations could be concluded with the aim of turning South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and prosperity.”