Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. met with China Foreign Minister Wang Yi via teleconferencing last Tuesday, July 14, at the end of which they declared that continuing maritime issues are not the sum total of Philippines-China relations and that “both sides will continue to manage issues of concern and promote maritime cooperation in friendly consultation.”
Two days earlier, Secretary Locsin had spoken on the anniversary of the decision of the Arbitral Court in The Hague on July 12, 2016, in which the Philippines won in its dispute over China’s claims in the South China Sea. The Chinese Embassy in Manila had responded, striking a discordant note in Philippines-China relations, but presidential spokesman Harry Roque had quickly reaffirmed the Philippines’ warm relations with China, setting aside things they do not agree on, including the territorial dispute.
In recent days, there have been efforts by some parties to stir up the dispute among several countries over various parts of the South China Sea. The ASEAN and China have agreed to draw up a “Code of Conduct” to settle their differences. In the meantime, the United States has sent warships into the area asserting international freedom of navigation.
The Philippines and China have reached agreement that — in the words of Secretary Roque — “we will proceed with what we can continue with our friendship with China, like matters on economic and trade relations” and “we will set aside other things that we do not agree on, including the territorial dispute.”
Today, there is much that is underway in the Philippines’ economic relations with China, including an irrigation project in the Cordilleras, two donated bridges in Binondo and Makati, a Philippine-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology-Technical Cooperation Program in the Central Luzon State University (CLSU), and a 60-40 joint venture favoring the Philippines in an oil and gas exploration and development project in the South China Sea.
Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian has resumed inspection of projects via teleconferencing, including visits to the Cordilleras project, work on the two Pasig River bridges, and the agricultural technology program at CLSU.
Philippines-China relations thus continue despite disagreement on some issues, toward a global dream of “Community of Shared Future for Humanity,” in the words of a Chinese leader who once emphasized that “mankind has only one earth to live on, and countries have only one world to share.”
We continue to have our differences with China, as in our disagreement over the South China Sea, but as officials of the two nations pointed out this week, the contentious maritime issues are not the sum total of Philippines-China relationship and both sides will continue to manage any differences in friendly consultation.