OF TREES AND FOREST
By MANNY VILLAR
The visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping last month attracted a lot of attention especially to critics of the Duterte administration. Some sectors framed the visit as part of a geopolitical tug of war between the United States and China. Others saw the visit as an effort by Beijing to woo Manila away from its traditional ally thereby weakening US presence in the Pacific.
I would rather characterize this historic visit as a renewal of friendship between old allies. As the Chinese President eloquently explained in an article quoted by the New York Times: “Our relations have now seen a rainbow after the rain.”
In his prepared arrival statement, Mr. Xi said that the visit, the first by a Chinese president in 13 years, has “reopened the door of friendship and cooperation.” He added that this renewed friendship will bring “real benefits” to the Chinese and Filipino people as well as contribute to “regional peace, stability and prosperity.”
President Duterte echoed the significance of the visit when he welcomed Xi: “For the Philippines, this is more than a reciprocal visit. It is a historic occasion.”
Aside from the historic nature and the implications to regional peace and development of the visit of the Chinese President, I also think that it signified a maturation in Philippine foreign policy. Our diplomatic relations in the past has been dominated by our so-called “special relations” with the US. It was, and is, a complicated relationship and we continue to respect both the US government and the American people.
But what is wrong with building special relationships with other countries? What is preventing us from establishing stronger ties with other nations? Why should we allow ourselves to be used as pawn in the geopolitical brawl in the region?
I have supported the Duterte administration’s diplomatic pivot to other nations because it will serve the interests of our people. By strengthening relations with Japan, China, Russia and other neighbors, we not only unshackle ourselves from the image of being the American’s “little brown brothers” but also become an independent, significant player in regional politics.
This renaissance in Philippines-China relations has happened despite the tensions in the West Philippines Sea. As both countries stressed in their joint statement after the visit: “contentious issues are not the sum total of China-Philippines bilateral relations and should not exclude mutually beneficial cooperation in other fields.”
The two countries signed a total of 29 agreements during Xi’s visit including one that seeks integrate our own infrastructure development plan with China’s Belt and Road Initiative—a multibillion dollar program that seeks to build a sprawling trade and infrastructure network across Asia and Europe.
Another important deal that was signed was the MOU on cooperation on oil and gas development between the Philippines and China. As Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi characterized it, the MOU should serve as a workable arrangement “on how we can enjoy resources in the area.”
There were a number of agreements on infrastructure which should augment our own Build, Build, Build initiative. These include an MOU on jointly promoting the cooperation in key infrastructure projects in Davao region and the Davao City Expressway project, implementation agreement of feasibility study for Panay-Guimaras-Negros islands bridges project, exchange of letters on China-aided bridge and road project in Marawi, and, contract for the project management consultancy of the Philippine National South Longhaul Project North-South Railway Project.
Clearly, these agreements stand to benefit our country’s infrastructure and economic development.
We should be able to cultivate new friendships, reestablish old alliances while continuing our ‘special relations’ with the US. This is not an indication that we are turning our back to an old friend but simply a sign that we have matured and have made other friends.