Last year, Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana emphasized that the key to better relations with our neighbor across the South China Sea is pragmatism, not confrontation. “If we are not able to solve the territorial dispute in the South China Sea/West Philippine sea) right away, the key is to manage it so that it does not evolve into a crisis. The Chinese are not ready to accept (the Hague tribunal award) but I think if we divide it into components, it is possible to achieve progress in certain areas.”
Both countries have certainly gained progress in certain areas such as the issue of fishing rights in Scarborough Shoal. Also last year, the two sides agreed to resume foreign ministry consultations after a hiatus that lasted for almost five years, and also set up a bilateral mechanism that would allow them to avoid any miscalculations or possible disruption in relations.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, in a recent article, “China and the Philippines join hands to deepen cooperation and build The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road”, likewise believes that bilateral ties have significantly moved forward since the state visit of President Rodrigo Duterte to China in October 2016.
Zhao said China-Philippines relations have “achieved an overall turnaround, enjoyed sustained growth with strength and depth, and surged forward along a fast track,” while the meetings between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Duterte “deepened strategic mutual trust” and enhanced mutual cooperation, thus “setting the course for sound growth of China-Philippines relations.”
Zhao also sees more improvements in bilateral relations: “China and the Philippines will surely become good neighbors helping each other, good friends supporting each other, and good partners benefiting each other. This not only serves both present and long-term interests of our two countries and peoples, but conforms to our common aspiration to safeguard peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”
With both Manila and Beijing eager to set aside differences and instead focus on what unites them, we see bilateral ties on a more solid footing in the years ahead.