China sojourn

"While we should continue to assert our sovereign rights, we should strive to settle differences through dialogue and negotiation."

In our Oct. 1 column, we talked about the 70th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China and how it evolved from 1949 up to the present. Another column last Friday touched on the insights shared by Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana on China's rise from rags to riches in 70 years.

As we indicated last week, we were fortunate to have been part of a media delegation that traveled to China last month. The trip was organized by their embassy here in Manila. This was my fourth visit to China in as many years, and I have seen first-hand many facets of our next-door neighbor's rapid economic development in the past four decades. And certainly, the Philippines can draw lessons from the Chinese experience that we can apply in our own path toward economic progress.

We set out from NAIA going to Beijing on board Air China early in the morning of Sept. 21. About two hours into the flight, we began to discern the scenery below alternating between vast greenery in the countryside and dense clusters of high-rise office and residential buildings and factories in cities. We were already flying over the mainland with less than two hours to go before touching down in Beijing.

Our hosts had prepared an itinerary that showcased both tourist attractions and government initiatives in various fields. Thus, right after arrival in China's capital city, we marveled at the death-defying stunts by an acrobatic troupe capped by eight motorcycles swirling at high speed inside a steel globe and deftly avoiding any collision. The next day, it was on to visit a section of the Great Wall in the outskirts of Beijing where our group negotiated steep stairways for a while but decided to turn back after about an hour as the seniors found it difficult to go farther due to weak knees and fatigue. This was followed by a tour of the sprawling Summer Palace built by successions of Chinese Emperors and preserved as a heritage site for both foreign and domestic tourists.

The Beijing leg of our visit was capped by a one-hour meeting at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with Counselor Sun Yi, who had returned to China just this year after serving as a leading officer of the Chinese Embassy in Manila. Sun gave a warm welcome to the delegation, reminisced about his experiences as a diplomat in Manila and expressed the hope that bilateral ties would be further enhanced in the years ahead.

From Beijing, we took a high-speed train to Changsha, capital of Hunan province in central China. We visited the Changsha Planning Exhibition Hall where we were briefed on the local government's plans to further develop the city, which left us wondering whether our own cities and towns have clear, comprehensive plans to improve infrastructures and enhance connectivity. In a visit to the Broad Group, a private manufacturing enterprise involved in energy conservation and clean air technology as well as construction building, we learned that it now has 3,000 employees and products sold in more than 80 countries. But one of its many accomplishments stood out. In 2015, it built a 57-floor Mini Sky City within 19 days—or 3 floors per day—using its own especially designed two stainless steel plates held together in honeycomb pattern by thin core tubes similar to the ones used in spacecraft.

From Changsha, we flew to Xiamen City in Fujian province. In our visits to the Xiamen Planning Exhibition Hall and Foreign Affairs Office of the Xiamen Municipal People's Government, we learned that Xiamen has been a bustling trading port since ancient times and was one of the first economic zones in China. Today, it is a charming garden city with easy access to the world by air, land and sea, and a showcase of China's entrepreneurship and innovation, in addition to being a thriving center of trade and commerce.

We visited two other heritage sites—Gulangyu Island and Nanjing County, the latter the home of  tulou or "earth building," a unique architecture found only in the mountainous areas bordering Fujian and Guangdong in southern China. The "earth building" is an enclosed structure buildings, usually square or circular in shape, with a very thick earth wall and framework, from three to five storeys high and housing up to 80 families.

Our last stop was a tour of Jinjiang County where they have erected a monument to our national hero Jose Rizal in recognition of his Chinese roots dating back so many generations. Jinjiang is also famous as home to many Chinese who migrated to other countries in Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, to improve their lives. In fact, six out of 10 richest business tycoons in Philippines can trace their ancestry back to Jinjiang.

Over all, this last visit to China further convinced us that we can derive much benefit from expanded bilateral ties in the areas of trade and investment, official development assistance, scientific and technological advances, and cultural and people-to people exchanges, among others. While we should continue to assert our sovereign rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, we should strive to settle differences, particularly the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, through dialogue and negotiation.

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Topics: Ernesto Hilario , China sojourn , People's Republic of China , Philippine Ambassador to China Jose Santiago Sta. Romana
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