China to Duterte admin: Let’s seize the better future

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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China to Duterte admin: Let’s seize the better future
Stressing that the Philippines 'is a close neighbor of China,' Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua says, 'A good neighbor is better than a far-off relative'

MANILA, Philippines – “We hope to work with the incoming government of the Philippines to open a new chapter of bilateral relations. Let’s seize the hour, seize the moment, and seize the better future.”

Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua made this appeal to the incoming Duterte administration on Thursday evening, June 9, as the Philippines and China marked the 41st anniversary of their diplomatic ties. 

In his speech at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, Zhao reiterated the need for bilateral or one-on-one talks between the Philippines and China to resolve their dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). 

He said the two countries, after all, keep a friendship that “goes back to ancient times.”

To illustrate this, the ambassador recounted the story of Zheng He, a Muslim explorer, diplomat, and fleet admiral during the early Ming dynasty in China.

Zheng He’s fleets “visited Mindanao, Brunei, Java, Thailand and Southeast Asia, India, the Horn of Africa, and Arabia.” He also “presented gifts of gold, silver, porcelain, and silk to his hosts, and received such novelties as ostriches, zebras, camels, and ivory from the Swahili.”

Then, “from his 4th voyage, he brought or invited envoys from 30 states who traveled to China.”

One of those he invited to China was the Sultan of Sulu, in what would become the Philippines after Spain colonized the Philippines in the 16th century.

Zhao said: “During Zheng He’s stopovers in Mindanao, he established good relations with the Sultan of Sulu, who later led a delegation of 300 people to visit China in 1417, and was well received by the Ming Emperor Yongle. Unfortunately, the Sultan of Sulu fell sick and died on his way back to the Philippines and was buried in China’s Shandong Province.”

“His tomb is still well protected by the Chinese government and the local people nowadays. These are vivid illustrations of the traditional friendship between Chinese and the Filipino people,” the ambassador added.

‘Neighborhood diplomacy’

In this context, Zhao explained that China “pursues a neighborhood diplomacy that treats neighbors as friends and partners.”

“A good neighbor is better than a far-off relative. The Philippines is a close neighbor of China separated by sea. It is natural for the two countries to develop amicable and cooperative relations,” he said.

When it comes to the West Philippine Sea dispute, China said it “has never lost sight of the larger picture and has been dealing with the South China Sea issue in a constructive and responsible way.” 

“The door for negotiation and consultation is always open,” the Chinese ambassador said.

For several times since Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte won the presidency, China has repeated the need for bilateral talks with the Philippines.

China has consistently pushed for bilateral talks as it detests third-party involvement to resolve the West Philippine Sea dispute.

Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio of the Philippine Supreme Court said it is acceptable to hold bilateral talks, but only once an arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, issues a ruling that favors Manila. 

The Philippines expects the tribunal to rule this month on the historic case filed by Manila against Beijing over the West Philippine Sea. 

China has rejected these arbitration proceedings. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email