The Philippines and China’s chilly relations appear to have warmed up Monday night, after Beijing, through Ambassador Zhao Jianhua, invited Manila to resume their old friendship, saying there is a silver lining behind the clouds, “and even sunshine.”
“I believe we have the wisdom, patience, courage and ability to settle the disputes through negotiations and consultations, and to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation between China and the Philippines,” Zhao said during the 65th anniversary celebration of the founding of China held at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City.
“It is obvious that the disputes in the South China Sea between the two countries have adversely affected our overall bilateral relations. It should not go on like this. It is time to think over how we can initiate a process of improving our relations.”
“And I am not pessimistic,” Zhao said, adding: “As a saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining. If we go beyond the cloud, we will catch the silver lining, and even the sunshine.”
“China and the Philippines are not only neighbors; we are also close relatives with history of friendly exchanges for more than a millennium.”
“Since the two countries established diplomatic relations 39 years ago, we have made significant progress in our efforts for a common development, which has laid a good foundation for comprehensive partnership,” Zhao added.
“It is our common responsibility to handle the disputes in the South China Sea in a proper and peaceful manner so as to carry on and further promote bilateral friendship and cooperation inherited from our ancestors to the future generations.”
“This serves the fundamental interests of our two countries, the well-being of our two peoples, as well as peace and stability of the region.”
According to Zhao, China needs a long-term peaceful and stable external environment to realize the Chinese dram, which is to build China into a modern socialist country that is prosperous, democratic, culturally advanced and harmonious by the middle of this century.
“To realize this Chinese dream, China needs a long-term peaceful and stable external environment. Only the path of peaceful development can lead China to attaining its development goal.”
“After suffering from the pain of over 100 years of incessant warfare in modern times, the Chinese people hate to see such tragic experience repeat anywhere in the world,” Zhao said, adding the overall situation in the South China Sea is stable and there is no problem with the freedom of navigation.
Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Laura del Rosario was no less enthusiastic in her response.
“I also want to assure you, Excellency, when we talk about friendship that next year, we will be celebrating the 450th anniversary of the galleon trade. It is always something we associate China with, because it is something that somehow, marks the globalization of trade and China and the Philippines are part of this.”
To show how closely linked the two peoples are, del Rosario relates that manton de Manila, or flamenco shawl, is a Chinese-made silk that during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines was thought to have come from the archipelago.
“Why do I keep on harping on this manton de Manila or Manila shawl? Because to me it’s the symbolism, how closely intertwined we are.”
Despite tensions that arose between Beijing and Manila over disputes in the islands, reefs and shoals in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), del Rosario said the country has taken steps to lessen the tension.
“It is true that the past year or so, perhaps you have reported to some incidents that have caused tension in our area, we wish to ensure you that somehow, the step that we have taken, like taking on a third party, to help lend clarity to our position, was really meant to maintain that friendship.”
The Philippines brought China before the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in 2012 to help clarify its claims and to limit China’s 90-percent claim of the South China Sea marked by the nine-dash line. “We don’t want confusions, you know, about where we are going. And for us the only way to really save that friendship is to seek what I call the clarity of what we stand for.”
Del Rosario said President Aquino looks forward to visiting Beijing in November, “so that we can participate in your hosting of the Apec [Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation].”
Del Rosario said it is a happy coincidence that the Philippines would be taking over the chairmanship of Apec from China in 2015.