September 28, 2018 at 11:50 pm
Rey E. Requejo
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua on Thursday night said the Philippines and China are preparing for President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the country by end of the year.
“The plan is that he will come to the Philippines for a state visit but the specific date and month have not been finalized yet so we’re in close coordination with the Filipino side to prepare for the most likely state visit,” he told reporters in Makati City.
Xi was invited to the Philippines by President Rodrigo R. Duterte when they first met in October 2016.
Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano earlier said the two sides are eyeing the month of November for the trip after a mutually accepted draft agreement on the joint exploration in South China Sea is signed.
The agreement, however, was stalled after the scheduled official visit of State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sept. 16 was canceled due to a typhoon that battered the Philippines. Cayetano said the two sides’ talks on this partnership are on track.
Meanwhile, Zhao said Beijing and Manila have not come to an agreement on the planned joint exploration in the South China Sea but both parties are “seriously” considering its possibility.
“I think both sides have realized that it would be our common interest to explore the possibility of joint exploration, which will be neutrally acceptable,” he said. But first and foremost, we must maintain stability and peace in the South China Sea,” he said.
During his speech at the reception of the 69th Founding Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China in Makati Shangri-La, Zhao cited the “sustained betterment and growth” of relations between the two countries since Duterte assumed the presidency.
“Over the past two years, a series of dialogue and consultation mechanisms have been revived in areas such as foreign affairs, defense, energy, economy and trade, agriculture, fisheries, science, and technology,” he said.
“There have been also increasing interactions and exchanges between local governments, media agencies, universities, think tanks and cultural institutions. In the meantime, China and the Philippines have maintained good communication and coordination on international affairs,” he added.
In tourism, he reported that the Philippines already received more than 760,000 Chinese tourists in the first seven months of 2018, achieving a 40 percent year-on-year increase and about 50 percent of the targeted arrivals by end of the year.
“We have every reason to expect more than 1.5 million Chinese tourists to visit the Philippines this year and generate a revenue of more than P32 billion,” the envoy said.
The two countries continue to work closely to combat illicit drugs, terrorism, and cyber-crimes, he said.
During his short conversation with Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana at the reception, Zhao lauded China and the Philippines’ military-to-military relationship which already “turned into a new phase.”
“First, I expressed my appreciation for his participation in our National Day celebration,” the envoy told reporters when asked what was discussed during his chat with the Defense chief.
“We have resumed our mutual trust and confidence. I hope with the efforts by both sides, (we) will further strengthen our mutual confidence and further strengthen military-to-military cooperation,” he added.
Zhao also made the assurance that China will be its “good neighbor, sincere friend, and trusted partner,” despite continuing unresolved maritime dispute over the South China Sea.
“China will continue to be the Philippines’ good neighbor, sincere friend, and trusted partner. China stands ready to join hands with the Philippines to make the fresh Golden Age of China-Philippines relations brighter and richer than ever before,” he said.
“What we have done showcases that our two countries have the sincerity, wisdom, and capability to properly manage the differences and focus on cooperation, in the purpose of turning the South China Sea into a sea of peace, friendship and prosperity,” he added
Zhao also extolled the gains and sustained development in various aspects of the Beijing-Manila bilateral relations.
“We should remember 2018 as a year of witnessing a sustained betterment and growth of China-Philippines relations. Under the strategic guidance of our two leaders, China-Philippines relations are moving along the fast track and gearing up for a faster and stronger development,” the Chinese envoy said, citing recent high-level exchanges, including the meeting of President Xi Jinping and President Rodrigo Duterte for five times on bilateral or multilateral occasions.
He also recalled the successful visits to the Philippines by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and former Vice Premier Wang Yang in 2017 and the visit two weeks ago of Vice Chairman Ji Bingxuan of National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee.
According to Zhao, the improved bilateral cooperation also resulted to improvement in the area of commerce where China’s trade volume reached $50 billion, which made China the Philippines’ No. 1 trading partner and import origin, and the fourth largest export market.
Last year, he noted, the newly added investment from China reached $ 53.84 million, representing a year-on-year increase of 67%.
For the first five months in 2018, China has made another investment of $165 million in the Philippines, projecting a record-high growth rate this year.
The Chinese diplomat also said Beijing attaches great importance to synergizing the Belt and Road Initiative and AmBisyon Natin 2040 as well as “Build, Build, Build” Plan of the Philippines.
“Considerable progress has been made in this regard. Funded by China’s grants or soft loans, the drug-rehab centers, two bridges over Pasig River and Chico River Pump Irrigation Project already broke ground. The two sides are pushing forward more major infrastructure projects such as New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam, Subic-Clark Railway, Philippine National Railways South Long Haul and the Safe Philippines, with a total volume surpassing US$ 7 billion,” he said.
Zhao also said that since President Duterte took office, China has provided all in all RMB 1.284 billion of grants to the Philippines.
“For the first seven months in 2018, the Philippines has received more than 760,000 Chinese tourists, achieving a 40% year-on-year increase. We have every reason to expect more than 1.5 million Chinese tourists to visit the Philippines this year and generate a revenue of more than 32 billion pesos,” he added.
“Please always stay assured of China’s commitment to help improve livelihood, reduce poverty, assist the needy and realize sustainable development in the Philippines,” he said.
Zhao also pointed out that the China-Philippines relations also contributed to regional stability.
“When counter-terrorism campaign started in Marawi, China lost no time in delivering a batch of military assistance to the Philippines. Our two countries have been working closely to combat illicit drugs, terrorism, and cyber-crimes,” he said, adding that “our concerted efforts, the situation in the South China Sea has been defined by sustaining stability.”
“Our two countries initiated such dialogue mechanisms as the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) and Joint Coast Guard Committee (JCGC), and explored practical cooperation in such areas as fisheries, maritime affairs, joint search and rescue, marine scientific research and environmental protection,” the Chinese envoy said.
READ: China leader sets 1st state visit to Philippines in 13 years