China, Philippines should maintain focus on future mutual development

February 23, 2012 Edited by He Shan

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III paid his first visit to China on Aug. 30, 2011, leading a large delegation of over 300 people. Bilateral relations between China and Philippines have seen their ups and downs since Aquino assumed the presidency one year ago; however, these two countries still have a deep friendship and a solid foundation for cooperation. As peace and development remain principal themes of China’s international political outreach, these two countries should establish a far-sighted strategic approach to guarantee continued development.

China and Philippines share a long-standing friendship. As early as the Tang Dynasty (618-907), many Chinese coastal residents began traveling to the Philippines in search of adventure and business opportunities. After a bureau of maritime trade was set up during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) in Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, a large number of Chinese frequently went to the Philippines for business purposes, and some even settled down and married local residents.

In today’s society, roughly 10 percent of the Philippines’ total population is ethnically Chinese, and the number of residents who claim Chinese ancestry is even higher. These individuals have played and will continue to play an important role in the economic and social development of the Philippines.

President Benigno Aquino III himself is of Chinese descent as his mother – former President Corazon Aquino, is a great-granddaughter of Xu Yuhuan, a Chinese national who lived in Zhangzhou. During her presidency, Corazon Aquino visited her great-grandmother’s Chinese hometown and planted an araucaria evergreen tree to symbolize the long-standing friendship between China and the Philippines.

In modern times, China and the Philippines both suffered from the oppression and aggression of imperialism and colonialism. In June 1898, Sun Yat-sen, the great forefather of the Chinese democratic revolution, had met with Philippine representatives in Tokyo to help them buy weapons.

After Japan launched its war of aggression against China, the Philippine people donated money and goods to support China's resistance against Japan. And when Japan invaded the Philippines, many overseas Chinese in the Philippines joined local anti-Japanese guerrillas, and fought side-by-side with their Philippine neighbors.

Although China-Philippines ties experienced strains during the Cold War, bilateral relations have greatly advanced after official diplomatic ties were established in 1975. Especially under the administration of former Philippine President Corazon Aquino, bilateral relations between the two countries have improved significantly.

China and the Philippines share a history of animosity toward old-world imperialism, and both countries face the similar challenge of developing their domestic economies and improving public welfare. Since the beginning of the 21st century, bilateral relations between the two countries have demonstrated a strong capacity for development.

In 2005, the leaders of these two countries agreed to build a strategic bilateral relationship of peace and development based on the three decades of progress after the establishment of the two countries’ diplomatic relations. In the year 2010, the value of trade between China and the Philippines reached 27.7 billion U.S. dollars, and China became the Philippines’ third largest trading partner.

At present, the U.S. and European debt crises are still affecting the recovery of the global economy. This adds difficulty to China’s and the Philippines tasks of developing their domestic economies and improving their citizens’ livelihoods. Therefore, the two countries should engage in more practical economic cooperation and expand the fields of cooperation in order to take advantage of each other's strengths to benefit the public at large.

China and the Philippines share geographic, cultural and ethnic ties. This foundation will surely aid both countries as they continue to cooperate in their mutual development. Although the South China Sea issue does highlight existing tension between these two countries, President Aquino shared an analogy that describes the China-Philippines relationship: “Even couples who have been married for 50 years still need some further understanding.” In order to focus on common development, both sides should strive to solve the dispute peacefully.

In light of this special relationship, China and the Philippines should stand at a higher strategic peak and maintain focus on future development in order to solve the South China Sea issue properly, promote economic and trade cooperation, and increase the exchange and nurture the relationship between Chinese and Philippine citizens.

The author is a research assistant at the Center for South and Southeast Asian Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

(The article was first published in Chinese and translated by Lin Liyao.)