By Herman Tiu Laurel

Last Dec. 12, 2022, 17 scholars from the Philippines and China gathered at the Ateneo de Manila, Leong Hall to discuss “Philippine-China Relations: Opportunities and Challenges” the relationship offers to the two Asian nations. This is a brief on what transpired.

I attended in behalf of the think tank Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute (ACPSSI) to listen and observe, and ask questions, to all of the speakers, particularly the Chinese scholars Dr. Dai Fan, Dr. Yan Yan and Dr. Li Yuanxin.

The Chinese scholars who are worthy of special mention here as they are rare scholar-visitors from China and come respectively from Jinan University and its Center for Philippine Studies, the National Institute for South China  Sea Studies and Nanjing University of Science and Technology.

At this point I have to clarify something, Dai could not make it to the country and the symposium due to two very unexpected events, first a mix-up of his name with Interpol records of some fugitive followed by a bout of mild Covid while still in China. I kept in touch with Dr. Dai via WeChat.

Other speakers who were all very informative and profound were lawyer Engelbert C. Caronan Jr. of the Development Academy of the Philippines speaking of healing and cooperation through the heritage paradigm, followed by Ms. Ana GM B Abejuela of the Philippine Embassy in Beijing discussing the any fruits of the bilateral relations.

Dr. Marvin M. Cinense of the 22-years old Phil-Sino Center for Agri-Technology (PhilSCAT) on the hybrid rice project of the two countries, Dr. Gezzez Glezi of UST on the Tourism Interconnection between the Philippines and China and expressing the aim of 1.8 million Chinese tourists for the year to come.

Dr. Aaron Jed Rabena of the APPPPFI on China-RP relations in the Duterte administration and its implications I thought was splendid, and Dr. Robin Michael U. Garcia of the UAP on the Evolution of  Philippine Foreign Policy from Duterte to Marcos which was a mediocrity full of prattle against China.

The second panel was Dr. Diana J. Mendoza of the Ateneo on Phil-China relations on the BIMP-EAGA, Mr. Joshua C. Agpaoa of Jinan University on Philippine Independent Foreign Policy: roles and prospects on China-US Relations, and Mr. Lucio B. Pitlo III of the APPPFI on Big Powers Competition and Phil-China relations.

Panel III had Ms. Jane T. Yugioksing on New Chinese Migrants in the Philippines, Dr. Li Yuanzin on China’s image in Philippines media, Dr. Rommel Banlaoi on Sinophobia in the Philippines current state of the relations, Dr. Jan Robert R. Go of the U.P. on the Pandemic and Beyond: Lessons for Community Experiences from Quezon and Wuhan.

The final four were no less interesting but which I had to miss, Dr. Francisco V. Navarro of the Ateneo on Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Pandemic, and Dr. Arnusharief Hassiman of the House of Zhejiu on TCM: A Nurturing Pill of Sino-Fil Friendship. I had to miss the last four due to pressing matters across the city.

This article is not long enough to cover each and every presentation in detail so we will select the most informative and striking ones that open new insights into Philippine-China relations through the past to the present.

Particularly informative was Abejuela’s report from Beijing through Zoom enumerating and summarizing the many projects and trade prospects the Philippines is enjoying with China. PhilSCAT is really interesting as it has been around for over two decades and immensely benefits our rice agriculture wit hybrid varieties developed with Chinese technology.

Rabena gave a very detailed report on China’s concretely delivery on its commitments of  funds and infrastructure projects citing the Davao-Samal Bridge, the Chico River irrigation dam, the Metro-Manila bridges over Pasig River and more in the pipeline. Agpaoa and Pitlo gave thorough and balanced coverage of Philippine foreign policy issues amidst the US-China face-off.

I want to put focus on the two power point presentations of the two present Chinese scholars, the first by Yan which identified and enumerated the many bilateral projects between the Philippines and China towards building understanding and cooperation.

Yan’s presentation is entitled “DOC 20 years and UNCLOS 40 years: A Review of China-Philippines Relations, Opportunities and Challenges. She goes through the decades of initiative that have step-by-step achieved the present state of effective dialogue and communication that have maintained productive harmony between the two nations despite SCS disputes. Yan explained that China’s initiative on this score is pursuant to UNCLOS Article 123 mandating coordination of various activities among claimant states in exploration, protection of marine environment, scientific research, while the Declaration of Conduct calls for cooperation on safety of navigation and communication, search and rescue combatting crime cooperatively.

Yan provided a timeline of the Code of Conduct evolution from 1992 to 2018, and from 2020 to the present going through nearly a dozen regional and bilateral meetings to achieve understanding and agreements. Maritime cooperation activities followed ranging from opening of maritime hotlines to a China-ASEAN Joint Naval Drill and China-ASEAN Search and Rescue Drill.

China-Philippines Maritime Cooperation, annual Bilateral Consultative Meetings from the first in 2017 to the seventh in July 2022 where President R. Marcos Jr. met with Chinese Foreign Minster Wang Yi. China-Philippines Coast Guard Maritime Cooperation Joint Committee meetings from 2016 to the present were presented.

It is well nigh impossible to imagine the density of cooperation and dialogue activities between China and the Philippines, as well as China and ASEAN without the help of the paper as put together by Yan to catalogue the flurry of activities every year over the decades to achieve the peace and stability that we all see in the SCS.

The second is the study by Dr. Li Yuanxin of Nanjing University of “China’s Image In Philippine Media: A Comparative Perspective” with her 12 slide power point presentation that traces the rich potential of Philippine-China relations, Philippine Media coverage of China under the present administration and a comparison of China and the USA in Philippine News.

Li found that Philippines-China relations have been dominated by territorial disputes while the relations have actually the potential to be “one of the strongest partnerships” in trade, agriculture, infrastructure, energy, education and people-to-people exchanges. Most of the news reviewed came from the Inquirer, Philstar and the Manila Times.

Comparing US and China news coverage Li gathered a total of 17,494 news items from June 30 to Nov. 11, 2022 and reports around a 10 percent numerical advantage for the US but also 23 percent and 20 percent overlaps between US and China-related coverage. China-related coverage and US-related overlaps increased in August during the Pelosi Taiwan visit.

Li concluded the three newspapers chosen forum the study “put almost the same attention to the China issue:, China-related coverage is narrower and “scant attention to China’s role in international politics” and that “Philippine media might dedicate more coverage to the US actions in China-related Asian issues.”

Last but not least, the organizer of the event who could not make it to Manila, Dai of Jinan University’s Center for Philippine Studies whom I communicated with via WeChat after the symposium, I asked for his message:

“I just (to) give a closing remarks, I hope scholars can make a great role in promoting mutual understanding between China and the Philippines. I also hope more Filipino can come to China to travel or study through which to improve their knowledge about China, as a rising country, CHINA really can help the Philippines in many fields.”

The symposium organized by the Ateneo Chinese Studies program with the Jinan University’s Center for Philippine Studies was indeed, as its flyer said, “a space for dialogue and exchange between scholars, practitioners, and experts in diverse but interrelated fields” on China-Philippine relations. We should have more of it ventilated by mainstream media.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary. 

About the Columnist

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Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.