Aquino's visit a boost for China-Philippine relations

February 24, 2012 Edited by He Shan

Philippine president Benigno Aquino III's visit to China, which ended on Sep. 4, 2011, provided a necessary boost in China-Philippine relations that has set the course for bilateral cooperation during the next five years.

During the visit, China and the Philippines signed a five-year plan on Sino-Philippine trade and economic cooperation, agreeing to enhance bilateral trade volume to US$60 billion by 2016. President Aquino also promised that he will establish a fair investment environment for foreign investors and welcome Chinese investors to participate in tourism, agriculture and infrastructure ventures.

Underscoring the importance of the visit, the two sides signed a joint statement lauding the visit of the Philippine president as a milestone for the development of China-Philippines bilateral relationship.

China and the Philippines have maintained a firm commitment to strengthening economic and trade cooperation. In the past 20 years, bilateral trade volume has increased 72-fold from US$380 million in 1991 to US$27.7 billion in 2011. Sino-Philippine trade was recently ranked the second fastest-growing bilateral trade relationship among the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) nations.

In addition to breaking new ground in trade cooperation, President Aquino's visit further enhanced bilateral understanding between the two countries. During the visit, Aquino visited Beijing and Shanghai and participated in an important meeting with President Hu Jintao, praising the achievements of China's development. As a Chinese Philippine, He also visited his ancestral home of Zhangzhou City in Fujian Province. About 200 key Philippine businessmen and 40 reporters traveled together with him with the hopes of understanding China better.

Meetings between the two sides were also constructive in terms of settling differences. Notably, Chinese and Philippine leaders reiterated that they would deal with the South China Sea issue as well as other regional disputes through peaceful dialogue. Both sides stressed that regional peace, security and stability must be maintained to create a favorable environment for economic growth. The visit ensured that talks regarding the South China Sea issue are moving in a more positive direction.

In May when President Aquino took office, local media in the Philippines ran headlines discussing "The China Threat." However, following the president's visit to China, the mainstream media changed its tone, running more amiable headlines such as "South China Sea: a friendship sea" and "the dispute of the South China Sea will be resolved peacefully", signaling a shift in public opinion in the country.

Despite the positive steps made, Aquino's visit to China also drew attention from other nations and critics wary of the consequences of an increasingly friendly China-Philippines relationship. The Heritage Foundation, a U.S.-based think tank, called on the Obama administration to tighten its relationship with Philippines. Philippine leaders also announced that they would visit the U.S. and Japan in September.

Neither side expects that one presidential visit will resolve all issues between the two countries, but Aquino's visit showed that the two governments can constructively work towards building better relations. The pledge from both sides to make 2012-2013 as the "Sino-Philippine Friendship Exchange Year" is further evidence that bilateral ties are moving forward at a rapid pace. As the Philippine Star noted, the two countries have been friends for centuries, and this friendship will allow both sides to overcome any difficulties they face on the road to stronger cooperation.