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Thursday, 10 December 2015 14:10

A senior official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) recently told representatives coming from different sectors here that in spite of the West Philippine Sea dispute, the country’s relationship with China has always been fruitful.

“The West Philippine Sea issue is definitely not the sum total of our relations with China,” said DFA spokesperson Assistant Secretary Charles Jose in several forums held in the city during his visit here last month. “In fact, Philippines and China have a lot of areas of cooperation,” he explained, citing trade, investment and tourism as among those strong bilateral areas.

Fruitful ties with China for centuries

In an article by Andrea Chloe A. Wong of the Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) of the DFA’s Foreign Service Institute (FSI), Wong emphasized that “the long-standing relations between the Philippines and China, spanning several centuries, have developed into a multi-faceted and wide-ranging partnership.” Wong points out that “throughout their historical interactions and bilateral exchanges, relations have been warm and cordial.”

According to Wong, in spite of the current disagreements over the West Philippine Sea issue, “trade between the two countries remains stable, and is even growing.” She presented figures to support this fact.

Trade between the two countries reached US$ 14.61 billion in 2013, from US$ 12.84 billion in 2012 and US$ 12.32 billion in 2011. Based on these numbers, China is considered to be the “third largest trade partner of the Philippines after Japan and the United States.”

With regards to tourism, the FSI reports that for 2013, 426,352 Chinese visited the country in 2013, from 250,883 in the previous years. The number has increased, despite travel advisories and the hostage crisis of Chinese tourists in Manila in 2011.

Tourism and trade are not the only areas of cooperation between the Philippines and China. Wong explains, “Despite its development feat, China is still a developing country,” much like the Philippines. The two countries have been exploring and studying good practices in terms of development.

Sisterhood pacts, learning from each other

Zamboanga City is one of those who took advantage of such explorations.

In September this year, an 82-man delegation from the city composed of local officials and entrepreneurs visited Nanning, China to participate in the 12th Chinese Asean Exposition (CAEXPO). The trip was an opportunity to open up new ties in tourism, trade and investment, particularly with the cities of Zhoushan and Guigang, after a sisterhood pact of cooperation was signed for the three cities.

According to Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, the mission of the delegation was to promote the city in terms of tourism, trade and investment potential.

‘What is ours, is ours”

The national government has been maintaining its position on the West Philippine Sea issue. President Benigno S. Aquino III has, on several occasions emphasized that “what is ours, is ours.”

The Philippines, as well as China and other countries are signatories to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). This document outlines the countries’ claims on territory in the disputed waters, invalidating China’s historical 9-dash line claim. China is claiming that the entire South China Sea is theirs, which encroaches the maritime territories of other countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia and others in the vicinity.

The Philippine government is determined to defend what is rightfully ours,” said Asec. Jose, adding that “we are taking the lead among other countries similarly affected by China’s claim.” He shared that the government has been undertaking two tracks of action – diplomacy and legal, optimistic to have a peaceful settlement of the issue through the primacy of the rule of law.

There have been many questions during the forums as to how the Philippines would police its claim over the disputed waters if and when the international tribunal decides in favor of the Philippines’ claim, considering that military-wise, China is far superior.

“Once a decision is drafted, the international community will be one with us in convincing China,” Asec. Jose said. “We believe that they will abide by the decision of the international court, they have an example to set, being one of the regional giants that should be respected. They would not want to be considered outlaws in the eyes of the international community.” (ALT/DIS/PIA9-Zamboanga City)