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Friday, June 14, 2024

The ‘middle kingdom’ reaches out

"Tapping a trillion-dollar market"

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Last Sunday, some half a million doses of the Chinese vaccine Sinovac were airlifted into Manila—the very first vaccine to actually land here. Not to be outdone, the vaccine produced by the UK firm Astra-Zeneca was supposed to be delivered in roughly the same amount the following day, yesterday.

One wonders if the Western vaccine would have been promised so quickly were it not for the speediness of the Chinese response. It contrasts so sharply with American companies like Pfizer and Moderna who’re still bickering with poorer countries, even going so far as to demand their state assets to secure vaccine purchases.

The Chinese may not speak English as well, but their actions speak a lot louder than their words. As a matter of fact, China exported more than 220 billion face masks last year, the equivalent of nearly 40 for every person on earth outside China, as demand for protective gear skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic.

This assistance was part of the largest global humanitarian drive organized by China since its independence in 1949. To date, the “middle kingdom” has extended anti-virus assistance to over 150 countries and 10 international organizations, sending 36 medical teams to 34 countries in need.

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I gleaned the above tidbits from the presentation of Minister Counsellor Jiang Jianjun of the Chinese embassy here at the webinar organized last Friday by CenSEI, co-sponsored by Microsoft, San Miguel Corp, RCBC, and Globe Telecom.

It’s well known by now that China was the only major economy to maintain positive year-on-year growth last year. This showed up in positive growth for their exports and imports, foreign investments and new start-ups, manufacturing value-added, even fixed-asset purchases by consumers.

The last item highlights the growing importance of consumer spending, the so-called “internal circulation” now being pushed by President Xi Jinping to complement the country’s leadership in “external circulation” or foreign trade.

Through 2020, China has become our largest trading partner: The largest source of our imports and the second largest market for our exports. The latter include items as diverse as dried fruits and electronics components. On the invisibles side, some 1.8 million Chinese tourists accounted for nearly a fifth of our tourist visitors in 2019.

The entire country represents a trillion-dollar market in which the ASEAN region plays an increasing role. China has been ASEAN’s largest trading partner for 11 consecutive years. In turn, and partly because of the pandemic, ASEAN for the first time overtook the European Union in 2020 to become China’s top trading partner.

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With the signing last year of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the “middle kingdom” is making its trillion-dollar market available to other regional players outside ASEAN, i.e. China, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Japan (India backed out at the last minute).

Noteworthy is the growth of the digital economy. Online sales last year accounted for nearly a quarter of all retail consumer sales. By year-end, nearly 800 million online consumers accounted for nearly 80 percent of the country’s Internet users. This will drive expanding cooperation with ASEAN in emerging sectors such as 5G, artificial intelligence, e-commerce and cross-border logistics.

It’s a potentially very satisfying relationship for us that bears nurturing with China, despite our outstanding maritime security disputes with them. Our Ambassador to China, the redoubtable Chito Sta. Romana, wisely reminded the webinar participants that there is absolutely nothing to stop us from simultaneously agreeing and disagreeing, collaborating and competing, with other countries—be it China or anybody else, including our old colonial masters.

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I ran across two online items recently with a shared meaning. It appears that the number of Americans who self-identify with the LGBTQS+ community has reached unprecedented levels. And over in Arkansas, a state-level backlash may be starting against the latest Federal rules that require biological men who self-identify as women to be allowed access to all women’s toilets, locker rooms, and sports events.

It was just a matter of time—a few decades, really—before the sexual hedonism of the relentlessly self-centered baby boomers curdled like spoilt milk into this gender disorder and dysphoria that afflict their thoughtless descendants. This is a generation that should heed the thundering words of the prophet Isaiah in today’s Mass reading: (Is 1: 10, 16-20):

“Hear the word of the Lord, princes of Sodom! Listen to the instruction of our God, people of Gomorrah! Wash yourselves clean!….If you refuse and resist, the sword shall consume you: for the mouth of the Lord has spoken!”

I’ve never seen so many exclamation points strung together in a Bible passage. We all know of the fire and brimstone that rained down on those two cities—not to mention poor Lot’s wife who turned into a salt pillar just for looking back while fleeing them. Clearly the Lord meant business—and good luck to you if you want to call His bluff.

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