On June 9, 1975, President Ferdinand Marcos, accompanied by his family members and Cabinet officials, together with Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, signed the Joint Communique establishing diplomatic ties between the two countries. The historic signing was held at the hospital where the seriously ill Chinese premier was staying. Zhou died seven months later.
Past forward to today, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian recalls that momentous event 46 years ago vividly captured in a photo now hanging prominently on the walls of the Chinese Embassy library in Makati City.
In a statement on the occasion of the 46th anniversary of the establishment of the Philippines-China bilateral ties, Huang expressed optimism that the friendship between the two countries would “withstand the test of time” notwithstanding the global challenges posed by the pandemic and the differences in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.
“Even best friends have differences. The South China Sea issue is neither the keynote nor the sum total of our bilateral relations. The two sides should by no means allow this single dispute to derail the overall relations,” Huang said in the statement posted on his official Facebook account.
That friendship, he said, started even long before the signing of the joint communiqué in Beijing between Marcos and Zhou.
Huang said it began hundreds of years ago in the Ming Dynasty when a number of cargo ships sailed from Fujian towards Southeast Asia and their first stop on the sea was the Philippines. It was the Maritime Silk Road that promoted unimpeded trade and cultural exchanges, and closely linked up the two countries and peoples.
Throughout those years, he narrated that many Chinese have come to the Philippines, where they settled down, raised families and made friends, and even fought shoulder to shoulder with local Filipinos against foreign aggression to protect the common homeland.
He emphatically stated that it was under the administration of President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping when relations between Manila and Beijing flourished, with the bilateral relationship elevated from mere “cooperative relationship of good neighborliness and mutual trust” to what is now the “Relationship of Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation”.
Since then, Xi and Duterte have met face-to-face eight times, and continue to engage closely in what he described as “cloud diplomacy” or through phone calls and exchanging letters and messages.
Huang said the two leaders formed synergies between their respective programs – the Belt and Road initiative and the Build, Build, Build – resulting to the completion of 12 government-to-government cooperation projects, 7 projects under implementation and more than 10 projects “going forward smoothly”.
He noted that the China-Philippines friendship is best exemplified during the outbreak of the COVID-19 with the Philippines providing valued support to China at the onset of he pandemic. China, on the other hand, has also extended help by providing much-needed medical supplies to the Philippines, shared experience and dispatched an anti-pandemic medical expert team to Manila.
He said it was also during the pandemic when many memorable “firsts” were recorded.
“China was the first country to donate test kits, the first and the only country to dispatch anti-pandemic medical expert team to the Philippines, and also the first country to issue special permit for the Philippine military aircrafts and vessels to land and dock in China for the transportation of medical supplies. China’s Sinovac was the first Covid vaccine to arrive in the Philippines both through government-to-government donation and commercial procurement, and it now tops the list of most welcomed and trusted Covid vaccines among Filipinos,” the Chinese diplomat recalled.
Regarding the sea row, Huang said both sides, under the guidance of Xi and Duterte, have chosen the path of “friendly dialogues and consultations” to manage their differences. The two countries have established the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) to exchange views, enhance mutual trust and explore practical cooperation.
On the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries, Huang said the consultation of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea (COC) is proceeding “smoothly and effectively,” noting the South China Sea is turning out to be a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation as evidenced by ships and planes carrying critical medical supplies sailing and flying over the contentious vast body of water in the region.
“Actions speak louder than words, and true friendship would withstand the test of time,” Huang said even as he expressed confidence that the friendship between the Philippines and China “would shine brighter in the tempering of time”.