Arroyo praises China, recalls presidency at Xi Jinping meeting

Paterno Esmaquel II
Arroyo praises China, recalls presidency at Xi Jinping meeting
'China has done in 40 years what other countries might take 200 years to do,' Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo tells Chinese President Xi Jinping

MANILA, Philippines – And they meet again.

Former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, now Speaker of the House of Representatives, led a courtesy call on Chinese President Xi Jinping on Wednesday, November 21.

In their meeting, Arroyo heaped praises on China and recalled her presidency – which saw the Philippines cozying up to China and signing a controversial joint exploration agreement in the South China Sea.

(A case challenging the constitutionality of the agreement, called the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking between the Philippines, China, and Vietnam, is now pending before the Supreme Court.) 

It was the second and final day of Xi’s state visit to the Philippines – the first by a Chinese president in 13 years. Arroyo led a delegation of lawmakers, including Senate President Vicente Sotto III and other lawmakers, in meeting with Xi at the Shangri-La at the Fort hotel in Bonifacio Global City. 

In her message to Xi, Arroyo said the Philippines “really can learn much from China’s impressive growth during the last 40 years.” She said China has shown the world “that rapid economic growth and modernization is possible through a combination of vision, political will, and open and responsible relations with other nations.”

“China has done in 40 years what other countries might take 200 years to do, so we congratulate you for that. It is good for China, it is good for the Philippines, it is good for the world,” she told the Chinese president.

Arroyo then cited reasons why a relationship with China is “very important” for the Philippines. These include geography, China’s economy being “the most dynamic among the major nations,” and the Philippines’ “vibrant Filipino-Chinese community” that has “very natural” business dealings with China.

Like Duterte’s approach

“And fifth, infrastructure will be very important for the Philippines in the coming years and there is no country in the world that matches China’s recent track record and capability in this area,” Arroyo added.

Critics have warned, however, that infrastructure loans from China can put the Philippines in a debt trap. China’s loans are at least 3 times more expensive than Japan’s, and at most 12 times more expensive. The Philippines also has an infrastructure partnership with Japan, which is China’s rival in the Asia-Pacific. 

Arroyo then told Xi, “We support and applaud the approach that Your Excellency and President Duterte are taking, especially as you’ve mentioned it last night, for a strategic and comprehensive relationship.” 

“It is similar – as you know, Excellency, because we met when I was president – to the approach to China that I took when I was president. Now as member of the Boao Board for Asia, I hope that I can promote a strategic and comprehensive relationship,” Arroyo said. 

Prior to Duterte, Arroyo was the last Philippine president to host a state visit of a Chinese president – Hu Jintao in 2005. China had seen Arroyo as “receptive” when she was president, while her successor Benigno Aquino III was “provocative,” said the International Crisis Group in a 2012 report. 

“The previous administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had been considerably more receptive to Beijing’s commercial incentives and was apparently willing to compromise Philippine claims in response,” the ICG said in its report.

“The former government (of Arroyo) could be bought; the current government (of Aquino) cannot,” said an ICG correspondence with a source it did not name in 2012. “The Chinese are likely playing a waiting game, hoping that the government will eventually be out of power and a new government will enable them to return to their tried and true tactics.” – Rappler.com 

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.