"The new ambassador's education and three decades of experience as a diplomat and academic credentials have prepared him well."
With the onset of a new year, we see bright prospects for enhanced Philippines-China relations with the new Chinese Ambassador, Huang Xilian, expressing optimism that economic cooperation, development assistance and people-to-people bonds would prosper even more in the months to come.
Huang arrived in the Philippines early last month and hit the ground running. That's because, first of all, he's a veteran diplomat.
Before coming to Manila, he was China's ambassador to ASEAN.
From 2014 to 2018, he was Deputy Director-General of the Department of Asian Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Between 1989 to 2014, he held various posts at the home office and in Brunei, India, United States, and Pakistan.
Apart from this, he has adequate academic credentials. The 52-year-old envoy completed a Bachelor's degree at Beijing's Foreign Studies University and holds a Master's degree (with distinction) from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom.
His education and three decades of experience as a diplomat and academic credentials have obviously prepared him well for his latest posting.
When Huang arrived in Manila on Dec. 3 last year, he remarked: "China and the Philippines enjoy a time-honored friendship deeply rooted among the two peoples...China-Philippines relations have gone through a trilogy of turn-around, consolidation and elevation in the past three years, ushering in a fresh Golden Age for the two countries."
Huang predicted: "The best is yet to come...I feel extremely honored to serve as the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines at such an important historical juncture, and will work wholeheartedly to promote China-Philippines friendship and cooperation, living up to the significant mission entrusted upon me. Let’s join with each other to embrace the present moment and open up the future. I look forward to working together with my colleagues and friends to continuously advance the China-Philippines relationship of comprehensive strategic cooperation."
Before 2019 ended, Huang told the Embassy's Filipino employees: “The Philippines has a very promising future with its current stability and development momentum. As good friends, neighbors and relatives, China stands ready to make contributions to the development of the Philippines. That is why we are conducting a host of projects across this country. The Chinese Embassy will continue to work hard to make these projects operational at an early date so that they could generate tangible benefits to the Filipino people.”
Earlier, news reports indicated that Ambassador Huang had agreed to the suggestion of the Finance Department to hold regular meetings to thresh out issues on the implementation of China-funded big-ticket infrastructure and development projects in the Philippines to fast-track their completion.
In his Christmas and New Year message, Huang assessed the past year as yet another milestone in bilateral ties: "Looking back on the year, China-Philippines relations have been moving forward steadily. The two countries are committed to peaceful and friendly coexistence. Our economic and trade cooperation has continued to advance, and cultural exchanges have become increasingly close. More importantly, in the spirit of seeking common ground while reserving differences, both sides have been striving to constructively manage and address the differences."
Last Dec. 16, Huang told a media gathering that China is now the Philippines' top trading partner, the largest source of imports and market for exports as well as the largest foreign investment origin and the second largest tourist source. At present, more than 40 major Chinese enterprises have invested in the Philippines, directly or indirectly generating 26,000 job opportunities for Filipinos. In the first ten months of 2019, new investments from China reached US$ 33.4 million, representing a year-on-year increase of 45.7 percent. As of October this year, more than 1.5 million Chinese tourists have visited the Philippines, or an increase by 41 percent on year-on-year basis.
While bilateral relations have been generally warm and cordial since 2016, Ambassador Huang must also strive to offset negative news about the territorial dispute in the South China Sea that somehow clouds perceptions of Filipinos towards China. Recent surveys indicate that not a few Filipinos have "little trust" in China, the result apparently of media reports of Filipino fishermen unable to gain access to their source of livelihood near disputed islands in the South China Sea, the increasing number of Chinese workers in Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators or POGOs, and the involvement of Chinese nationals in criminal activities, such as kidnap-for ransom. There's also apprehension on the part of some Filipinos that Chinese loans with high interest rates may unnecessarily drag the Philippines into a so-called "debt trap," a charge that Beijing stoutly denies.
From where we sit, the new Chinese ambassador to Manila is likely to build upon the gains made by his predecessors. At the same time, he needs to carefully handle issues that could adversely affect already warm relations between our two countries.