China-Philippine ties hold fruitful promise
2017-10-30, YANG HAN in Manila

As bilateral ties between China and the Philippines become increasingly close, the two countries’ cooperation in trade, investment and tourism is expected to bear much fruit and bring benefits to all.

This was the consensus among speakers at the China-Philippines Dialogue 2017 event, a China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable forum held in Manila on Oct 26. 

“Since (Philippine) President (Rodrigo) Duterte’s successful state visit to China last October, China-Philippines relations have entered into a new era,” said the keynote speaker, Ethan Yi Sun, counsellor at the Chinese embassy in the Philippines. “Our two countries are enjoying growing political mutual trust and frequent exchange of high-level visits.”

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will soon pay an official visit to the Philippines during the ASEAN Summit in November. Sun said it will be the first visit of its kind by a Chinese premier in 10 years.

Referring to the China Daily roundtable’s theme, A New Chapter in China-Philippines Ties and the Prospects of China-ASEAN Cooperation, Sun said rich fruits have been reaped already from the cooperation between China and the Philippines. 

Sun said China is now the largest trading partner, largest import market and fourth-largest export destination of the Philippines. From January to July, their bilateral trade volume hit $28 billion, up 7.6 percent year-on-year. 

Now in its second year, the forum aims to strengthen communications and trust, deepen understanding of cooperation between China and the Philippines, as well as explore future opportunities for China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Zhou Li, the editorial board member of China Daily Group and publisher and editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific, believes the dialogue will help realize Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vision of achieving a mutually beneficial collaboration between neighbors, leading the development of the world community with a shared future for mankind. 

At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xi, as general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, stressed that China will continue to hold high the banner of peace, development, cooperation and mutual benefit and uphold its fundamental foreign policy goal of preserving world peace and promoting common development.

Other keynote speakers at the Manila forum were Ann Claire Credo-Cabochan, director of the Bureau of International Trade Relations for the Philippine Department of Trade and Industry, assistant secretary at the Philippine presidential communications operations office Ana Maria Paz R Banaag and former Philippine secretary of finance Roberto F de Ocampo.

In a panel discussion on the topic, Sino-Philippines Relations: Trade, Investment and Tourism, Federico M Macaranas, chair of the department of economics at the Asian Institute of Management, suggested the two countries put aside the South China Sea territory dispute and seek new ways of cooperation which focus on using and sharing the assets. “It is joint use of assets, not ownership of assets, that will matter for our relations,” he said.

Nicholas Ho, deputy managing director at Hong Kong-based architectural consultancy Ho & Partners Architects Engineers & Development Consultants, said: “When we look at the Philippine market, it is full of opportunities and full of potential.” 

Ho’s company is the architect of the New Manila Bay - City of Pearl, a smart city project in the heart of Manila. The 407-hectare reclamation project, aiming to be a high-tech commercial and tourism center, is one of the China-Philippine projects under the Belt and Road Initiative. 

First proposed by President Xi in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and aims to increase trade and investment between Asia, Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes of the Silk Road. 

Ho said that through the Belt and Road, many cooperation opportunities can be found for enterprises in the Chinese mainland, international investment and Hong Kong professionals. “We look forward to bringing the services and technologies to the Philippines, and by working with the local enterprises and government, we can bring a brighter future for the Philippines,” he said. 

Ma Jianhua, director at China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), said: “Since 2016, China-Philippine relations have entered a golden period of fast development. The two countries have signed 20-plus cooperation agreements within one year.” 

CHEC now has over 70 overseas branches, offices and subsidiary companies around the world, undertaking $10 billion worth of projects. In the Philippines, CHEC has more than 15 projects, including harbor, road and bridge, and which Ma said are all examples of the company’s deep relationship with local enterprises. 

In support of the Belt and Road, he said CHEC, through its capabilities and previous experience, can help clients interested in seeking opportunities under the initiative. 

According to the Philippine Department of Tourism, China was the country’s third highest source of foreign visitors in 2016, after South Korea and the United States. From January to July this year, the number of Chinese nationals who visited the Philippines totaled 454,962, up 33.44 percent year-on-year. And the number is expected to hit the one-million mark this year. 

Yet Jose Luis U Yulo Jr, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands, said this number is still small when compared to China’s total population of more than 1.3 billion. 

He said about 680,000 people from the Philippines visited China last year, approaching somewhere near 1 percent of the Philippines’ total population.

“If China can also send 1 percent of its population, that means that they would send 13 million Chinese tourists,” he said. “I doubt our airport can handle that.”

He suggested setting up a tourism cooperation framework to develop the industry logically according to what each country can accommodate. And he emphasized the quality of tourism exchange should be improved for the local environment and culture. 

Speaking for the Philippines’ largest organization of Filipino-Chinese businesspeople, Angel Ngu, honorary president of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said tourism is an essential exchange between ASEAN countries and China, and helpful for mutual understanding between people.

As the rotating chair of ASEAN this year, the Philippines held the launch of the China-ASEAN tourism cooperation year in Manila in March, and Ngu said this new era of tourism cooperation will improve mutual understanding.

For Philippine companies planning to do business in China, Ngu said it is “important to have a keen understanding of the business culture, consumer needs, legal requirements, and form relationships with government, agencies and potential partners”.

Jerome Ma, vice-president of China e-commerce giant, and Dennis Ng, founder of the Philippine-based on-demand delivery app Mober, shared their thoughts on e-commerce and the logistics industry in the region, seeing more opportunities ahead for enterprises from both sides.

Sino-Philippine relations analyst Wilson Lee Flores and Wen Zongduo, deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily Asia Pacific, attended the event as moderators. 

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