Philippines-China relations

Eyeing stronger ties, Huang pitches China as ‘super market’ for Philippines

Sofia Tomacruz, Lance Spencer Yu
Eyeing stronger ties, Huang pitches China as ‘super market’ for Philippines

CHINESE ENVOY. Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian speaks about the recent developments in China after last week's Communist Party Congress, at the Pandesal Forum at the Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City on October 25, 2022.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian says priority areas of cooperation between Manila and Beijing under the Marcos administration include agriculture, infrastructure, new energy, and exchanges between people

MANILA, Philippines – Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian expressed optimism that ties between Beijing and Manila could gain new momentum under the Marcos administration, after the Communist Party of China (CPC) vowed to turn the Asian giant into a “great modern socialist country” during the group’s recently concluded congress.

The once-in-five-years gathering of the CPC – watched closely by foreign governments across the world – saw Chinese President Xi Jinping cement an unprecedented third term. During his speech at the key gathering, Xi declared modernization by 2049 to be a priority of his government.

In a forum on Tuesday, October 25, Huang emphasized this, citing the goal of ushering a modern socialist China to be “the central task” of the CPC.

“From this day forward, we have shifted to a new mission. That is to realize the second centenary goal, to build China a modern socialist country in all respects, by 2049. And to advance the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, on all fronts,” Huang said.

Along this effort, the Chinese envoy made a pitch for increased cooperation with Manila, saying Beijing’s path to prosperity offered a new path toward development that countries like the Philippines could follow.

“There is no one size fits all for modernization…. We need to continue to press ahead on this path and for the Philippines, we also believe you need to find a way which fits your own national conditions and fits the demands of your people,” he said.

Huang likewise sought to draw parallels between the two countries, citing “similar” goals held by China and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. In particular, Huang listed four key areas of cooperation bilateral ties, particularly agriculture, infrastructure, new energy, and exchanges between people.

The Chinese envoy urged the Marcos government to double down on boosting trade ties with China, saying that a further “opening up” from Beijing could benefit Filipinos.

“After the new administration took office, I can see a lot of investors from China have shown great interest to this country not only from state-owned enterprises, but from the private sector. I think that China will provide a super market for the Philippines,” Huang said.

Following the conclusion of the CPC Congress last Sunday, October 22, several foreign business groups said they were encouraged by China’s commitment to opening up, but expressed wariness that economic growth could take a backseat to policies driven by the CPC’s ideologies.

Priority areas

In the Philippines, Huang said China aims to foster cooperation in the areas of agriculture, infrastructure, clean energy, and people-to-people relations.

According to the envoy, China has already established itself as one of the top importers of Philippine agricultural products. This position is expected to grow stronger as China seeks to further expand its Philippine fruit imports.

“It tells you the growing importance of China: one, as a commodities importer, big market, and also [as an] investor in modernizing Philippine agriculture, and at the same time a source of agricultural inputs,” said Lucio Pitlo III, a research fellow of the Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation.

China’s push to ramp up cooperation with the Philippines comes after Marcos’ predecessor, former president Rodrigo Duterte, pushed for closer relations between the two countries. But while Chinese businesses had sprung up during Duterte’s term, few of the Chinese government’s promises of billions worth of infrastructure deals had failed to materialize, forcing the Philippines’ economic team to turn to other private entities.

Asked to comment on three stalled big-ticket railway projects that were set to be funded by China, the ambassador asserted that Beijing was still open to renegotiation. 

“We are ready to further [communicate] with the new administration to understand their plan for the ‘Build Better More’ (initiative). We can match each other, our strategy, and improve,” he said. – Rappler.com

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.