Outgoing China ambassador Zhao bids Cayetano farewell

MANILA, Philippines – As he ends his 5-year tour of duty, China Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua on Monday, November 4, paid a farewell call to House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano before leaving the Philippines.

In a statement sent to reporters Monday night, the China Embassy said Zhao made the call to thank Cayetano – the Philippines' former foreign secretary – for his "important contribution" in fostering cooperation and friendly ties between Manila and Beijing.

Zhao vowed China was "committed" to promoting parliamentary exchanges between the Philippines and China "so as to constantly enrich [the] China-Philippines Comprehensive Strategic Cooperation relationship."

Zhao had been given the rock star reception when he visited the House of Representatives on Monday with lawmakers conferring upon him the Congressional Medal of Achievement. This was part of a House resolution which praised Zhao for his work in "fostering stronger Philippines-China bilateral relations."

The resolution was led by none other than Cayetano, along with ranking members of the House including Majority Leader Martin Romualdez, Minority Leader Bienvenido Abante Jr, and House committee on foreign affairs chairperson Ann Hofer.

Close ties, close friends: The warm exchange between Cayetano and Zhao is not surprising.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi earlier called Cayetano one of China's "best friends" as he hailed him for a "full turnaround"of bilateral relations which helped bring the Philippines and China "back in the right path."

In a rare move, China had also congratulated Cayetano on his election as Speaker in July.

During the farewell call, Cayetano wished Zhao "all the success in the future" as he gave assurances friendly ties would continue even after Zhao's stint in the Philippines.

According to the Chinese Embassy, Cayetano said the House "thought highly" of developing "friendly exchanges and cooperation" with China's legislature to learn from China's "successful experience of governance and legislation."

Before he assumed the speakership, Cayetano had served as the Philippines' top diplomat who sought stronger ties with China and voiced openness to conducting joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea.

During his stint as foreign secretary, Cayetano was criticized for cozying up to China as Manila and Beijing remain embroiled in a dispute over the West Philippine Sea in the South China Sea.

Recognition given: Prior to Zhao's visit to the House, the outgoing China ambassador paid a farewell call to President Rodrigo Duterte, who conferred upon him the Order of Sikatuna with the Rank of Datu. The Davao City government also passed a resolution citing Zhao's "historic achievements."

Zhao is set to leave the Philippines this month after his posting ended in October. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.