POSTSCRIPT / December 8, 2019 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Difficult repair job awaits China envoy

NEWLY posted China Ambassador Huang Xilian faces a tough job of repairing the damage wrought on relations with the Filipino people by Beijing’s aggressive and unfriendly activities in the Philippines.

The 52-year-old career diplomat has no problem with President Duterte, a self-confessed Sinophile and an ardent admirer of China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping, but his mettle will be put to the test on the people-to-people level.

After presenting his credentials to President Duterte on Dec. 4, Huang immediately went to work on his promise that “the best is yet to come” in the neighbors’ 45-year-old relations. He will build on the impressive five-year record of his  predecessor ambassador Zhao Jianhua.

Speaking on Friday at the thematic briefing at a Makati hotel on the fourth plenary session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, Huang urged closer collaboration between the CPC and the Duterte administration’s ruling PDP-Laban.

Among those in the briefing were PDP Laban president Sen. Koko Pimentel, Deputy House Speaker Dong Gonzales Jr., and PDP-Laban Vice President for International Affairs Secretary Raul Lambino. Also present were leaders of the NP, NPC, Lakas-CMD and NUP.

President Duterte, coincidentally, is sending Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello, one of the communists he had absorbed into his Cabinet, to try to talk peace with rebel leaders in the Netherlands led by Jose Maria Sison, founder of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

While he exuded optimism, Huang gave no hint of how he would resolve the disputes over China’s grabbing and militarizing strategic features of the Philippines exclusive economic zone. Such aggressive and unfriendly activities have ruined China’s image among Filipinos.

Huang did not indicate how soon, if ever, China will allow the traditional fishing activities of Filipinos that the Chinese coast guard and militia had harassed and driven from the Panatag (Scarborough) shoal off Zambales.

He was silent on his government’s policy over the hordes of mainlanders coming in unusually big numbers, taking away jobs that normally should go to local workers. Neither was there mention of the operation here of illegal Chinese drug manufacturers and traffickers.

The influx of undesirable elements from China is smearing the good record of long-term Chinese residents, including the big number that fled China after the 1949 communist takeover of the mainland.

The Philippines opened its doors to these political Chinese refugees, giving them a chance to start life anew and contribute to the well-being of their adopted second home.

Maybe in time Huang will get to address these outstanding issues, including the question of sovereign rights, and Chinese intrusions in Philippine maritime areas that have unnecessarily become irritants in people-to-people relations.

 Surveys show little trust in China

WITH the failure of Manila and Beijing to resolve these festering issues, it is no wonder that surveys have shown consistently that China is the least trusted nation among Filipinos.

The average Filipino’s negative attitude toward Chinese contrasts with the Duterte administration’s going out of its way to please his Beijing benefactors.

A recent survey by Washington-based Pew Research Center, for instance, has found that 64 percent of Filipinos rely on the United States as a dependable ally while only 9 percent see China as a dependable ally.

As reported by PhilStar’s Patricia Lourdes Viray, the rating of the US as a dependable ally is lower by 19 points from 83 percent in 2014, but is still way above how China is rated by Filipinos, 62 percent of whom consider China as the greatest threat to their country.

An earlier survey of Pew Research, results of which were released in October, found that 54 percent of Filipinos have unfavorable views of China versus 42 percent who have a favorable opinion.

China experienced an 11-point drop in its favorable mark in the Philippines, which was at 53 percent in 2018.

Aside from the Philippines, other regional neighbors also saw China as a threat, including Japan (50 percent), Australia (40 percent), South Korea (32 percent) and Indonesia (21 percent.

The same survey found that only 5 percent of Filipinos consider the US as a threat while 4 percent name Russia and 3 percent regard Japan as the  greatest threat to the country.

Among the countries that named the US as their top ally are Israel (82 percent), South Korea (71 percent), Japan (63 percent), Canada (46 percent) and Australia (38 percent).

The Philippines part of the Pew survey was conducted from May 25 to June 22 using face-to-face interviews among 1,035 adults.

The poor trust showing of China is also shown in local surveys. In July, Filipinos’ trust in China declined while the US saw a higher trust rating in the second quarter of 2019, according to a Social Weather Stations survey.

The poll conducted June 22–26 found that 51 percent of adult Filipinos have little trust in China, 21 percent are undecided and 27 percent have much trust.

This translates to a net trust rating of a “poor” -24, which is 18 points down from China’s -6 in March. The SWS said this is the lowest since China’s net trust rating of -35 in June 2018.

In the survey, 43 percent of respondents disagreed with the statement, “Most of what the Chinese government wants to happen in the Philippines is good for the Filipinos.” Only 27 percent said they agree that China has good intentions for the Filipino people.

The US enjoyed a 13-point surge in its net trust rating for the second quarter. The poll showed that 81 percent of Filipinos have much trust, 11 percent are undecided and 8 percent have little trust in the US – for a net trust rating of an “excellent” +73.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 8, 2019)

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