Meet Huang Xilian, China's new ambassador to Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – Five years after Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua took the helm of Philippines-China relations in Manila, the Philippines welcomed veteran diplomat Huang Xilian as China's new ambassador to the country.

Huang arrived after midnight on Tuesday, December 3 and was welcomed by representatives of the Chinese community in the Philippines as well as protocol officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs. 

A diplomat with more than 3 decades of experience and expertise in Asia and Southeast Asia, Huang will steer relations between Beijing and Manila in the latter half of the Duterte administration, which has fostered close ties with the Asian giant.

H.E. Mr. Huang Xilian, newly-appointed Ambassador of the People's Republic of China to Republic of the Philippines arrives in Manila on 3 Dec. He is welcomed by protocol officials from DFA of the Philippines, and representatives from Chinese communities in the Philippines. pic.twitter.com/gKf2djEJqg — ChineseEmbassyManila (@Chinaembmanila) December 2, 2019

Yet despite the "warm ties" between the Duterte administration and Beijing, Huang is expected to face hot-button issues such as the decades-long sea dispute in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

Despite this, Huang remained optimistic over his upcoming stint in the Philippines, saying he was "very honored" and "grateful" to be in a country where he feels "back at home."

Here's what you need to know about Huang:

Career diplomat

Huang, 52, has worked with China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) for 30 years so far with his career said to be closely tied to Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi's.

Starting his career in diplomacy at the age of 22, Huang's first job in China's MFA was as staff member at the ministry in 1989.

He then became a staff member and attaché at the ministry's department of Asian affairs where he served for 3 years before being assigned as attaché and third secretary of China's embassy in Brunei in 1993. Huang was posted in the Southeast Asian country for 4 years.

After his stint in Brunei, Huang returned to the MFA's Asian affairs department in 1997 where he held several roles such as third secretary, second secretary, and deputy director until 2002.

Following this, Huang would see a series of foreign postings for the next 8 years.

This included assignments to India where he was posted for 3 years as the Chinese embassy's second and first secretary. Later in 2005, Huang returned to Brunei as a political counsellor for one year.

In 2008, Huang was assigned to China's embassy in the United States where he worked as a political counsellor for two years. He then played the same role for another two years in Pakistan from 2010 to 2012.

From 2012 to 2018, Huang was once again assigned to the MFA's department of Asian Affairs where he worked as a counsellor for two years, and later, the department's deputy director-general for 4 years.

Huang received his bachelor's degree from the Beijing Foreign Studies University. He also received his master's degree with distinction from the University of Manchester.

China's ASEAN man

Prior to his latest post in Manila, Huang held the title of China's ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary, which means having the full authority to represent the Chinese government, in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Jakarta.

During his stint as China's ambassador to ASEAN, Huang regularly hailed China's close connection to the regional association in all aspects, from tourism to the economy and trade.

"Connected by mountains and seas, ASEAN and China enjoy a long history of amity and cooperation and are already a close-knit community of shared prosperity," Huang wrote in an opinion piece in the Jakarta Post.

Upon landing in the Philippines on Tuesday, December 3, Huang reiterated this, recalling stories from his boyhood when his family would tell him "the Philippines which faces China across the sea is our relative with close kinship and cultural bond."

"Therefore the natural affinity with the Philippines has grown in my heart.... I have always been deeply impressed by its magnificent natural beauty, hospitable people, diverse culture and enormous development potential," he said.

As China's ambassador to ASEAN, Huang was also responsible for setting the foundation of China's key document “ASEAN-China Strategic Partnership Vision 2030” after it was adopted by ASEAN in November 2018. The document, formulated with the guidance of Chinese President Xi Jinping, is envisioned to foster closer ties between China and the regional body.

"China’s development has global implications, as it benefits not only the people of China but also the rest of the world. It also has special significance for ASEAN, as ASEAN and China are interconnected and share weal and woe," Huang said.

Huang's new post in the Philippines is strategic as it comes at a time when China and Southeast Asian countries are speeding up negotiations to pass a long-delayed South China Sea Code of Conduct, whose discussions are being coordinated by the Philippines. 

Huang also assumes his new post as the Philippines and China celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations in 2020, which coincides with China's "conclusive year" to meet its first centenary goal of building a moderately prosperous society. 

Hailing the "golden age" of Philippines-China relations brought about by a "trilogy of turn-around, consolidation and elevation" under the Duterte administration, Huang vowed to work "wholeheartedly" in his new role.

As China's new face in the Philippines, what changes may Huang bring to Philippines-China relations? – Rappler.com

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.

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