"We are Filipinos even if our ancestors are Chinese."
How does the Filipino-Chinese community view our enhanced economic cooperation with China?
George Siy, a prominent businessman and chairman of the Trade and Industry cluster of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII), believes that “we are in a very unusual situation because our economic growth today is the fastest compared to the past five to six decades in our history. Interest rates are at the lowest levels than they have ever been.”
He asked: “What should we do to take advantage of this situation? How can ordinary Filipinos benefit from our economic growth?”
Siy, a graduate of the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania, told media during our Saturday Forum@Annabel’s a week ago that the federation conducts trainings, creates access to jobs and livelihood opportunities, helps government in crafting legislation that would promote economic growth, and even assists in facilitating loan agreements if asked.
“We are Filipinos even if our ancestors are Chinese. When we go abroad, we try to promote the country and protect the country as well.”
Siy noted that while the US has asked its allies in Europe not to buy Chinese goods, Germany, Great Britain and Italy have said they would still buy from China. “This is not really a trade war but a war for supremacy for the next generation of technology. These countries are making independent decisions and we should do so as well.”
“Our trade with China is booming. They are buying many of our fruits. We have more than doubled the volume in the last two years. But we are not producing enough so we must encourage more people to invest in agriculture. While other countries have increased their trade with China from five to 10 times and earning billions of dollars from their exports, we are exporting just one-third or less of that,” Siy pointed out.
The Tsinoy businessman said that with more Chinese tourists coming to the Philippines, then “we must build more tourism infrastructure. A hotel takes at least three years to build, for instance. But if we keep on attacking China in the newspapers every day, then our efforts will all go to waste.”
Amid news reports of Chinese-only restaurants mushrooming in Metro Manila and in Boracay, Siy had this to say: “When we start a business, not all the papers or documents may be there. We have to understand that sometimes business establishments decide to open even without complete papers, but they have to follow the rules sooner or later.”
For Siy, “it’s not politics that should be given priority, but economics. Even if we have political disagreements, we can take advantage of economic opportunities. We want market access, whether we are producing agricultural goods or selling services.”
“Our relationship with China is very important because the Chinese can provide financing for our infrastructure requirements. We’re talking not just about physical infrastructure but also technological advances, including artificial intelligence and robotics, where China has already made significant progress,” he added.
For Siy, “it’s not correct to say that the Chinese are taking away jobs from Filipinos. They earn three times more in China than they do here. We shouldn’t drive them out. Let’s legitimize their employment, get them to pay the proper taxes to the government since they contribute to the Philippine economy with their expenditures in rentals, food and so on.”
For his part, Wilson Lee Flores, a newspaper columnist and chairman of the Public Information Committee of the FFCCCII, concurred with Siy that Philippines-China economic relations have indeed become more pronounced in recent years.
“With our independent foreign policy, we have started to become closer to all the big powers. The Duterte administration strives to establish closer ties with Japan, for instance. More foreign businessmen are coming to the Philippines, and this is good news.”
Flores lamented that media in the Philippines and abroad are concentrating on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines.
“The bigger picture is that we should focus on the economic dimension of our longstanding ties, and take an active part in the Belt and Road project. We can bring in more Chinese tourists to the country provided we have adequate tourism infrastructure.”
Apart from this, he said, the Philippine government should promote more exports, where right now we’re earning several hundred million dollars a year. “Our direct competitors are our next-door neighbors in ASEAN, such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. What’s important today is healthy economic competition.”
Flores noted that most of the federation members are micro, small, and medium enterprises who stand to benefit with the normalization of our bilateral relations with China. “Our enhanced ties with China is good news for the Philippine economy. We should depoliticize our foreign policy and strive to foster economic cooperation with other countries.”