"It’s a friend, indeed."
By Zaida Reyes
With the country facing a negative 11.5-percent growth rate in the third quarter of 2020, plus an unemployment rate of 39.5 percent or 23.7 million Filipino adults in the same period, this dreary reality does very little to lift our spirit as a nation.
Imagine the tens of millions of families living the next months without the clear hope of finding and enjoying a regular income to feed their children, the thousands with cardboard signs identifying themselves as idled jeepney drivers and laborers scattered around Metro Manila streets begging coins.
The COVID-19 crisis will still be with us for at least 12 months more even if the promised vaccines, primarily coming from China where the technology and testing seem to be the most advanced, arrives in six months' time -- in May of 2021 – and ready for inoculating the initial mass of our people.
As I pondered these depressing realities our nation of 110-million faces today, I find it difficult to be consoled. I, like many of my friends, with a college degree and a cum laude to boot, have not found a regular livelihood.
As I surfed the Internet visiting different sites I logged into YouTube while continuing to read the daily local and international news. On YouTube I found a long medley of “Stand by Me” which I played while I surfed and surfed as the song was really a consolation in the mood I was in:
“When the night has come, and the land is dark... No, I won’t be afraid, Oh I won’t be afraid... just as long as you stand, stand by me... If the sky that we look upon, should tumble and fall, Or the mountain should crumble to the sea... I won’t cry, I won’t cry... Just as long as you stand, stand by me...”
As my heart lightened enjoying the song I came across the FB post of our envoy to China, Ambassador Chito Sta. Romana, with his photos at the launching of the very colorful Philippine Food Pavilion at the November 5, 2020 Third China International Import Expo (CIIE) held in Shanghai, China.
The caption said, “Delivering the opening remarks at the launch of the Philippine Food Pavilion & promoting ‘healthy & natural’ tropical fruits like Cavendish bananas, pineapples, mangoes, coconuts & other food products at the CIIC in Shanghai, November 5, 2020.”
I read also the China Daily report entitled “Philippines tickle taste buds at CIIE” which quoted Amb. Sta. Romana telling the reporter, “You have 400 million middle-class consumers, all demanding healthy natural food. We may not be able to satisfy everybody!”
Last year, the Philippine exported $ 600-million worth of bananas to China, and the CIIE Expo last year helped close $ 181-million deals for the Philippines, including electronic parts and other items. While this year the Philippines eyed only a very modest sale at the CIIE of $ 31-million due to the pandemic.
Hopes are high, however, that a rebound for the Philippines- economic boon from China is in the offing. According to the other news about China-Philippines economic ties a “Green Lane” has been established to facilitate travel of officials and businessmen between the two countries to kick start the economic rebound.
On a wider front, ASEAN and other countries are also lowering their travel and border restrictions for Chinese travelers in preparation for the revival of Chinese tourist arrivals. An October 31, 2020 report cited Brunei Darrusalam, New Zealand, Thailand and Vietnam lifted their restrictions since August, Singapore, Japan and Taiwan this November.
China has totally contained its domestic COVID-19 situation and normal life has resumed there, and they are taking care to control imported cases from foreign visitors. The Philippines still has to completely subdue its coronavirus outbreak before Chinese tourists (which brought in $ 2.2-billion in 2019) return to the Philippines.
Elsewhere, I read that China is not only the Philippines’ top trading partner but also for 129 other countries, far outstripping the significance of the once-dominant U.S.A. China and the Philippine total trade in 2019 reached $ 50-billion according to our BOI (Board of Investments).
As I continued to surf and read, the economic opportunities of the Philippines with China clearly looked bigger and bigger. China is interested to recruit tens of thousands of English teachers from the Philippines, and the variety of fruits it is interested in is growing adding avocados now after China’s Customs authorities cleared the first shipments late last year.
The economic benefits and potential future benefits from our relations with China seem endless. I only hope the naysayers and nitpickers in this country, particularly opposition politicians constantly lambasting China over imagined transgression (like the South China Sea issue) don’t spoil the budding PHL-China relations already established by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
After all is read and said, I find China a great friends of the Philippines and Filipinos indeed, especially on reading that China will prioritize the Philippines in its supply of COVID-19 vaccines now in the final Phase 3 trials all over the world and at “global public good” prices. It is our hope for early recovery.
China indeed is a friend for the Philippines in dire need, indeed “Someone to lean on.”