Philippines-China relations

Romualdez to envoy: Philippine-China ties deteriorated under your watch

Kaycee Valmonte

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Romualdez to envoy: Philippine-China ties deteriorated under your watch

TOP DIPLOMAT. 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 in Quezon City on October 25, 2022.

Jire Carreon/Rappler

House Speaker Martin Romualdez says he shared his thoughts with Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian during a diplomatic function hosted by Malacañang

As Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian nears the end of his tour in Manila, House Speaker Martin Romualdez points out that the envoy leaves behind a more frayed Philippine-China relationship than when he arrived in December 2019.

Romualdez to envoy: Philippine-China ties deteriorated under your watch

Romualdez told reporters in a press conference on Monday, June 24, that he recently had the opportunity to speak to Huang during the vin d’honneur, a diplomatic function hosted by Malacañang, and told the ambassador to find a way to smoothen bilateral ties between the two countries.

“I just told the ambassador from China to the Philippines, that maybe he doesn’t want that to happen under his watch. He saw that the relationship with the Philippines went from good relations to not so good relations, it deteriorated,” the Speaker said in a mix of English and Filipino.

“It doesn’t look good that it all happened under his watch,” he added. “That’s why he should exert all the efforts as the representative of China to the Philippines.”

The relationship between the Philippines and China has deteriorated under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. As Manila became more assertive in upholding its sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, Beijing resorted to aggressive tactics. Recently, Beijing even threatened to make public a recording of an alleged deal with a Filipino general to ease tensions in the controversial waters.

Expressing support for Filipino troops in the tense waterway is not new for Romualdez. As House Speaker, he vowed that the lower chamber was “prepared to pass the legislation and allocate resources that will fortify our archipelagic defense and ensure that our armed forces are well-equipped to meet any challenges.”

But when asked if kicking out Huang and his staff was among options the government was considering, especially after another altercation during a resupply mission on June 17 where one Filipino soldier lost his thumb, Romualdez deferred to Marcos.

“Let us let him take the lead,” he said, adding he does not want to preempt the President. “Although those are very viable or possible options.”

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Huang kicked off his tour of duty in the last three years of the Duterte administration, coming in at the height of the former president’s pivot to China. The Duterte administration was chummy with Beijing in exchange for economic and trade support, particularly for Duterte’s ambitious infrastructure program “Build, Build, Build.”

All throughout his term, Duterte did not make any move to enforce the Philippines’ victory over China in the South China Sea through the 2016 Arbitral Award, and even adopted China’s stance in dismissing the historic win as nothing more than a piece of paper meant for the trash bin.

The pivot to China was reversed as soon as Duterte’s term ended. Huang again witnessed another foreign policy pivot under the Marcos administration, which saw the Philippines rekindling ties with traditional allies such as the United States and standing up to China’s harassment in the West Philippine Sea. (READ: View from Manila: PH, US, Japan, and Canada sail WPS as China’s ‘scare tactics’ kick in)

Duterte was nonchalant about China’s unabated actions in the West Philippine Sea under his watch, even with Chinese maritime militia vessels swarming near reefs across the West Philippine Sea. It was his foreign secretary, Teodoro Locsin Jr., who summoned Huang in relation to this incident in 2021.

When Marcos took over, he personally summoned Huang in February 2023 after the China Coast Guard (CCG) pointed a military-grade laser light against Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel in the West Philippine Sea. This happened just weeks after his state visit to China where he and Chinese President Xi Jinping “took note of the growing maturity” of their countries’ bilateral relationship.

Romualdez, who was with Marcos during the 2023 Beijing visit, had described the President’s trip as “highly successful” and even noted the “rapport” between the two leaders.

Over a year later, at the press conference on Monday, Romualdez said: “We thought talks went well but unfortunately, skirmishes in disputed areas here got worse and that became the highlight of the relationship rather than commonalities, which we should actually celebrate, rather than focus and delve into this aggressive behavior the Chinese Coast Guard and PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy is employing.”

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Kaycee Valmonte

Kaycee Valmonte is a multimedia reporter who covers politics in the House of Representatives and public health.