The relationship between the Republic of the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China has always been a tad complicated, particularly in the matter of territorial rights and limits in the South China Sea, which our country renamed the West Philippine Sea to reinforce claims to features such as the Scarborough Shoal. In contrast with the stubborn stance of past presidencies, the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has taken a conciliatory attitude with China, leading to some cynical critics pulling stunts like the “Province of China” banners in Metro Manila last week. China’s ambassador, however, is offering reassurances that there is no such political distinction lies between the two nations.
CNN Philippines reports that Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua has issued a statement denouncing the “falsehood” contained in the red banners proclaiming “Welcome to the Philippines, Province of China” that have been put up in areas around Metro Manila since July 12. “Not now, not ever… The Philippines can never be any part of China,” said Zhao, adding that such stunts by yet-unidentified parties are a vicious attack on the cordiality of the China-Philippines bilateral relations. He is echoing the opinions of Executive Secretary Harry Roque, who believes the banners were the work of “government enemies”.
The posting of the “Province of China” banners came on the second anniversary of the International Arbitral Tribunal from The Hague that invalidated the “Nine-Dash line” assertions of China that cut significant chunks out of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
Aside from the issue of the banners, Ambassador Zhao also allayed concerns brought up regarding the large-scale monetary grants by his government that have been given to the Philippines to finance several major infrastructure projects. In particular, this refers to two Metro Manila bridge projects, of which President Duterte has recently presided over their groundbreaking ceremonies on Tuesday, July 17.
These bridges, one connecting Manila’s Binondo and Intramuros and the other connecting Makati and Mandaluyong, have been completely footed by the Chinese grants and will cost the Philippine government nothing, but have sparked speculation that China is deliberately putting the country into a “debt trap”. This assertion was pooh-poohed by Ambassador Zhao saying, “China’s grants does not have any strings attached to them. And China’s loan to finance infrastructure projects will not make the Philippines fall into a debt trap.”
President Duterte also added his own weight on the bridge issue, saying that Chinese officials never attached strings to their soft loans in their discussions with him. “I’d just like to tell everybody that in all if these Discussions, China did not ask any, even one square of real estate in this country,” the President said. As for how he would address the arbitral ruling from 2016, Duterte answered, “I’m sure that in the end, China will be fair and the equity will be distributed.”
Image courtesy of Philippines Lifestyle News