MANILA, Philippines – China hailed President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday evening, January 23, as a "wise builder" who will steer the Philippines through 2017, the Chinese Year of the Rooster.
In a speech at his embassy's Chinese New Year reception, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua pointed out that Duterte was born in 1945, also the Year of the Rooster.
The rooster, he said, "stands for diligence and perseverance."
"In President Duterte, we all see a firm champion and wise builder who will carry forward the China-Philippines friendship and partnership," the Chinese ambassador said.
Zhao added that Philippine national hero Jose Rizal was also born in the Year of the Rooster, 1861.
Zhao praising Duterte is the complete opposite of China's attitude toward Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III. (READ: Aquino's Chinese ancestry fuels anger in Beijing)
Aquino, while coming from a Chinese family, irked Beijing by deciding to file a historic case against it over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). The Philippines won this case against China in July 2016, but Duterte has given the Asian giant a "soft landing" as he boosts Manila's ties with Beijing.
'More bridges, railways' seen
In his speech on Monday, Zhao added that the Chinese New Year is more promising for both Manila and Beijing, as "a new chapter" in Philippine-China relations opened in 2016.
This comes as Duterte moves closer to China and away from its traditional partner and former colonizer, the United States.
Recently, in fact, Duterte met with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, who paid him a rare courtesy call in the Philippine presidential palace. (READ: Duterte admin 'independent' from US, 'bullied' by China?)
Zhao said, "We will see more bridges and railways built, more ports upgraded, more flight routes opened, more overseas students exchanged, more Chinese tourists visiting the Philippine and the other way around." (READ: Avoid mistakes of past China deals, incoming PH envoy says)
Quoting the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong, Zhao said, "The dawn glows as a rooster crows."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.