Full text: Written interview with Manlila Times by H.E.Amb. Huang Xilian
2020/07/20

On 17 July 2020, Amb. Huang Xilian gave Manila Times a written interview. The full text of the interview runs as follows:

1. How does China view the Philippines? How does the Philippines figure in China’s foreign policy and economic plans?

China and the Philippines are close neighbors sharing time-honored bonds of kinship and friendship. Throughout the past one thousand years, equality and mutual help in times of need has been the dominant theme for China-Philippines relations.

China and the Philippines are natural partners benefiting each other in economic development. China is now the Philippines’ top trading partner,the largest source of imports and the third largest export market. In 2019, our bilateral trade volume reached US$60.95 billion,with a 9.5% year-on-year increase. Last year, the total value of China’s newly signed contractual projects in the Philippines reached US$6.24 billion, up 102% year on year. The synergies between the Belt and Road initiative and the Build, Build, Build program have been deepened, and a series of important programs are being pushed forward in a steady pace. A few examples. Once completed, the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam could provide at least 600 million liters of water per day for the Metro Manila which could effectively meet its water demand. The Chico River Pump Irrigation Project is expected to deliver water to 8700 hectares of rice lands and benefit 4250 farmers of 22 barangays. The Philippine National Railway's South Long Haul will largely improve transportation infrastructure which will span more than 10 cities and towns connecting Manila to South Luzon and will greatly reduce travel time between Manila and Legazpi. The Philippine-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology has built up a large-scale hybrid rice planting demonstration site of 260 hectares and provided the on-site agricultural services for over 730 farming households. So far, it has produced a total of 18,000 hectares of hybrid rice, increased the yield by 21,000 tons and brought benefits to over 9,370 households.

China and the Philippines are close friends helping each other through difficulties. China has contributed around 35 million PHP in cash to assist the victims of Mindanao earthquakes, Typhoon Ursular and Taal Volcano returning to normal life. In the face of common challenge of the COVID-19, our two governments and two peoples have stood together and come to each other's help, writing new chapters of friendship between our two countries. The Philippines provided valuable support and assistance to China at the height of China’s battle with COVID-19. And China extended every help and support to the Philippines to the best of its ability, promptly providing well-needed medical supplies, dispatching an anti-pandemic medical expert team, helping the Philippines to procure medical supplies in China and exchanging experience on resumption of work and production to accelerate the recovery and growth of the Philippines. We always stand together and will heal as one.

True friendship endures trial and hardship. This year marks the 45 anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries. Through joining hands to fight against the COVID-19, the foundation of China-Philippines relations have been further cemented, people-to-people ties strengthened, and the sense of building a community of shared future deepened. We have every reason to believe that, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and President Duterte, with the concerted participation and support from both governments and peoples, China-Philippines friendship and partnership would embrace an ever better future in the new era.

2. What cooperation has been conducted between the Chinese government and the Philippine government on the fight against COVID-19?

The year 2020 witnessed profound changes in our lives. The ruthless COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc in many countries around the globe, severely threatening humanity and global public health security. Facing the common challenge of the COVID-19, China and the Philippines have been supporting and helping each other, demonstrating our long-standing profound friendship. At the height of China’s battle with COVID-19, the Philippine government and people from all walks of life provided valuable support and assistance to China, which we will always be grateful and hold dear to the heart. In light of the pandemic situation in the Philippines, we feel keenly for the Philippine people amid the trying times. China extended every help and support to the Philippines to the best of its ability.

China has promptly provided well-needed medical supplies to the Philippines through multi-channels, helping the Philippines to improve testing capabilities. At the early stage of the outbreak here, the Chinese Embassy in cooperation with the China Mammoth Foundation, donated 2,000 test kits to the Philippine Government. The Chinese government then donated three batches of medical supplies to the Philippines, including 250,000 test kits, 130 ventilators, and 1,870,000 surgical masks, personal protective equipment(PPE) etc. A large number of Chinese local governments, enterprises and civil groups donated millions sets of PPEs and other medical supplies to different local governments, hospitals of the Philippines. Recently, Chinese government donated 3,075,000 kilograms of rice to the Philippines, benefiting more than 500,000 Filipino Families. The Chinese Embassy and Consulates have also donated over 20, 000 “Friendship Bags” containing food and daily necessities to Filipino families in need across the country to help them get through the current difficult time.

China has unreservedly shared its hard-earned experience in the fight against the pandemic with the Philippines, and has dispatched an anti-pandemic medical expert team with front-line experience in April, to assist the Philippines in its battle against the COVID-19. China has provided assistance to the Philippines to procure and transport medical supplies from China. China has made every effort to prioritize the production and supply of medicine and medical equipment urgently needed by the Philippines. Over 10,000 cubic meters of anti-pandemic medical supplies and a large amount of medicine have been purchased and transported from China and distributed to the front-liners in the Philippines. In light of the temporary suspension of commercial flights between the two countries, China has issued special permit for the Philippine military air crafts and vessels to land and dock in China for the transportation of medical supplies. And the Chinese Embassy chartered a “Goodwill Flight” to help deliver anti-pandemic supplies to the Philippines. All these efforts have secured the life channel by air/sea between our two countries.

Under the new normal of day-to-day pandemic response, China will continue to engage with the Philippines in joint COVID-19 prevention and control, exchanging experience on resumption of work and production to ensure supply and industrial chains, and implementing projects pertaining to the Belt and Road initiative and the Build, Build, Build program, so as to accelerate the recovery and growth of our economies in the post-pandemic era.

China commends the anti-epidemic efforts of Philippine government and people, and supports the Philippine side to take effective response measures according to its national conditions. We believe that under the leadership of President Duterte, the Philippine government and people will overcome the pandemic at the earliest. China will continue to provide our support and assistance to the best of our ability to the Philippines, and stand together with the Philippine government and people to jointly tackle the challenges and tide over the difficulties.

3. With regard to the disputed territories in the South China sea, what is China’s interest? How does China intend to address the conflicting claims with the Philippines and other countries?

China’s position on the South China Sea issue has been consistent and clear-cut. While firmly safeguarding its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, China has always been committed to resolving disputes through negotiation and consultation with countries directly involved, managing differences through rules and mechanisms, and achieving win-win results through mutually beneficial cooperation.

The essence of the South China Sea issue is the disputes on the Nansha Islands(the Spratly Islands). The Nansha Islands have long been part of China’s integral territory and the successive Chinese governments have exercised jurisdiction over Nansha Islands in a continuous, peaceful and effective manner. During the WWII, Japan briefly invaded and illegally occupied Nansha Islands, and China recovered and resumed the exercise of sovereignty over Nansha Islands after war according to Cairo Declaration, Potsdam Proclamation and other post-war instruments. However, since the late 1960s, some Southeast Asian countries made illegal territorial claims over and occupied by force on some islands and reefs of Nansha Islands and thus created the territorial disputes. In addition, the development of the international law of the sea gave rise to the disputes between China and the Philippines as well as other South East Asian countries over maritime delimitation in some parts of the South China Sea.

China and ASEAN member states have reached consensus on solving the South China Sea issue through a “dual-track approach”: namely China, the Philippines and other parties concerned peacefully and properly handling the territorial and maritime jurisdiction disputes left from history through direct talks on the one track, while China and ASEAN members states jointly maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea on the other track.

In recent years, the situation in the South China Sea has stabilized due to the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries including the Philippines. A lot of progress has been made in our cooperation on maritime search and rescue as well as marine conservation and research. Within the framework of fully and effectively implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, China and ASEAN countries are advancing the consultation on a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and are making visible progress, with the second reading of the text already begun. China and ASEAN countries have agreed to conclude the COC at an early date, a goal we are confident and determined to achieve. Once concluded, the COC will provide China and ASEAN countries a rule-based framework in managing the South China Sea issues, which will contribute greatly to trust-building, peace and stability in the region.

No external interference can distract or sabotage our efforts. COVID-19 has put the consultations on a break, but China is coordinating closely with ASEAN countries to pick up where we left off as soon as possible. We will also explore new ways of maritime cooperation to safeguard peace and stability and promote development and prosperity in the South China Sea region.

Allow me to add a few words on the disputes between China and Philippines. The peoples of China and the Philippines have been good friends and close relatives for thousand years. Even lovers and friends may have differences, but differences should not prevent them from loving and supporting each other. Compared with the long history of Sino-Philippine friendship, the disputes between us are only “a drop in the sea”, or only 1 percent of our overall relationship and we should put them on a proper position. Both sides may look at the South China Sea issue from its own perspective, but we need to properly handle and manage the differences. One should not hype up or magnify the disagreements indefinitely, neither allow such disagreements to hijack the overall relations between our two countries. Rather, we should solve differences through constructive dialogue and consultation in constructive manner. If the dispute is too complicated to be solved for short term, we could shelve it and wait till time matures, while we should put our attention on the 99 percent of cooperation.

4. Could you talk about China’s military exercise near the Xisha Islands? The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs issued a stern-sounding statement. Could you give a reaction? Does the Philippines have anything to fear?

Xisha Islands are indisputably China's territory. China's military training in the waters surrounding the Xisha Islands is within China's sovereignty and beyond reproach. It is unreasonable and unnecessary to make inappropriate responses based on hypothetical scenarios. At present, thanks to the joint efforts by China and ASEAN countries, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable and witnessing sound development.China is ready to work with all parties to safeguard regional peace and stability.

5. Is China concerned that its action in disputed territories will trigger an arms race in the region or worse, actual conflict? What are China’s policy to ensure peace in the region? What are the flashpoints in Asia that China is closely watching?

China is committed to pursue its independent foreign policy of peace and defense policy that is defensive in nature. As a responsible major country in the global community, China has all along strive to build peace, contribute to development and uphold order in the world, and work for a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind.

As a member of the Asian family, China adopts a neighborhood foreign policy of good-neighborliness, friendship and cooperation. China is not only a major engine driving regional economic growth, but also a staunch supporter of regional peace and stability.

China is the largest trading partner and source of investment for most of its Asian neighbors. Focusing on common development, China has put forward and actively promoted the Belt and Road Initiative and initiated the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund. We welcome continued participation by all countries for mutually beneficial outcomes.

Committed to pushing forward the building of regional security mechanisms, China initiated with relevant countries the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Six-Party Talks, and has actively participated in the ASEAN-led multilateral security dialogues and cooperation mechanisms. China has actively pushed for peaceful solutions to hotspot issues such as the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula and the Afghanistan issue, and played its due role as a responsible major country.

Disputes over territories and maritime rights and interests are always sensitive and complex issues, which require patience and smart diplomatic efforts to manage. In this regard, China has 14 neighboring countries on land and eight at sea. When the People’s Republic of China was founded in 1949, there was not even a single boundary between China and any of its neighbors that was unambiguously delimitated, accurately demarcated or explicitly marked. After several decades of arduous diplomatic negotiations with its neighbors, China has successfully resolved land boundary disputes with 12 neighbors. The length of the boundaries delimitated and demarcated totals some 20,000 kilometers, about 90 percent of the length of its land boundaries. Moreover, China has managed to delimitate the maritime boundary in Beibu Wan (Tokin Gulf) with Vietnam. Such successful experience demonstrates that China and other Asians countries have the will and wisdom to solve sensitive disputes in an Asian way.

While China and ASEAN countries working very hard on managing the South China Sea issue, we have to be on high alert that the United States as an external force has also been intensifying its meddling in the South China Sea. The recent distorting statements of US Secretary Pompeo and Assistant Secretary Stilwell on the South China Sea are just another proof of US attempts to sow discord between China and other littoral countries. It seems that the US is determined to translate the South China Sea issue from a pure territory and maritime dispute into a geopolitical game.

Some basic facts need to be cleared up. It is the US, not China, that believes in “might makes right” and resorts to force and intimidation at every turn. It is the US that has waged color revolutions and illegal wars, displacing millions in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. China has never started any war. It is the US, not China that takes a predatory world view. China upholds the vision of a community with a shared future for mankind and a neighborhood diplomacy of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, and inclusiveness.

Under the pretext of preserving stability, the US is flexing muscles, stirring up tension and inciting confrontation in the region. Under the pretext of endorsing rules, it is using UNCLOS to attack China while refusing to ratify the Convention itself. Under the pretext of upholding freedom of navigation and overflight, it is recklessly infringing on other countries’ territorial sea and airspace and throwing its weight around in every sea of the world.

Against such a backdrop, I think China and its South East Asian neighbors should properly resolve disputes and prevent them from being capitalized on by the US to sabotage stability in the Asia-Pacific region. I also hope that the Philippines and other China’s neighbors have a cool head and make a sober-minded judgement on situation.

6. Could you introduce some progress about COVID-19 Vaccine Research and Development and Vaccine Cooperation?

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China has been actively developing vaccine research and development. The WHO has so far recorded around 160 COVID-19 candidate vaccines in development around the globe, 21 of which have entered clinical trial phase, including 7 from China.

Among them, two leading Chinese vaccine developers, China National Biotec Group(CNBG) and Sinovac Biotech, have completed phase two clinical trials of their potential vaccines, each of which achieved encouraging results. Recently, CNBG and Sinovac have started the phase three trials of their candidate vaccines in the UAE and Brazil respectively. The inactivated candidate vaccine undergoing phase three trial in the UAE is the first vaccine of its kind to reach a late-stage, mass-scale human trial.

On June 13, Chinese President Xi Jinping in his phone conversation with President Rodrigo Duterte reiterated China’s commitment to the international community to make any vaccine it develops a global public good and that as a friendly neighbor, China certainly considers the Philippines as a priority. I am glad to see that the Philippine government has approved several Chinese candidate vaccines to carry out clinical trials locally. I hope the two sides would strengthen relevant cooperation and China’s vaccine will benefit local people at an early date.

7. How do you review China's economic prospects after the pandemic and its impact on China's trade partners as well as China's foreign investment?

The COVID-19 has damaged the global economy and trade and presented the toughest financial outlook in decades. According to IMF’s latest World Economic Outlook Update, the world economy is on track to contract sharply by 4.9% in 2020. Global trade contracted by close to 3.5% in the first quarter, reflecting weak demand, the collapse in cross-border tourism, and supply dislocations related to shutdowns with productivity and supply chains being hit.

Although China still faces challenges from the global spread of the virus, encouraging signs have emerged as the government strives for the right balance between proper COVID-19 containment and sound socio-economic development. Factory activities continued to pick up in May with value-added industrial output soaring 4.4 percent year on year, the decline in fixed-asset investment and retail sales narrowed in the first five months, exports in April-May were stronger than expected. It is expected that output in China will recover significantly in the second quarter and for the rest of the year, serving as the biggest engine of global GDP growth.

China attaches great importance to the trade and economic relations with ASEAN, which became China's largest trading partner this year. According to Chinese statistics, in the first five months of 2020, trade in goods between China and ASEAN topped US$242.4 billion, up by 0.9 percent year on year against all odds, with China still being the largest trading partner of the Philippines. China’s investment in ASEAN increased by 11.7 percent on a yearly basis, among which direct investment by China towards the Philippines increased by 82.5%. In order to maintain the momentum of trade and investment, we are currently discussing the establishment of a "fast track" for the movement of people and a "green corridor" for the flow of goods with concerned parties in order to create a more enabling environment, shore up the confidence and energize the trade and investment recovery.

8. What’s the latest on Belt and Road? How does the pandemic affect the progress of Belt and Road?

Thanks to the active participation and strong support of all parties, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has kept growing in both depth and substance, evolving into the largest platform for international cooperation with 200 countries and international organizations, and playing an ever more important role in promoting development and prosperity around the world. Despite headwinds like COVID-19 and a sluggish global economy, Belt and Road cooperation has pressed ahead and entered into a new phase of high quality cooperation. In the first quarter of this year, trade between China and BRI partners rose by 3.2 percent, and direct investment by China up by 11.7 percent on a yearly basis.

In the Philippines, with the gradual resumption of work and production in an orderly fashion, China-Philippine connectivity-building has continued to make headway. All contracted projects have resumed construction, reaching approximately 80% capacity as a whole. The G-to-G projects such as the two bridges across the Pasig River and the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project are moving forward steadily, the Philippine-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology-Technical Cooperation Program Phase III has resumed 90% capacity.

BRI has become a key "cargo lifeline" and "bond of solidarity" during the pandemic with cooperation in public health deepened. Aside from sending a medical expert team to the Philippines, China has provided the Philippines with abundant medical supplies. China has also assisted the Philippines in purchasing large amount of anti-epidemic supplies and a large amount of medicine. We have also fully supported the private medical sector of the two countries in deepening cooperation benefiting from wider market access, and encouraged the building of a Huoyan (Fire Eye) molecular laboratory in the Philippines using Chinese testing equipment and reagents.

Despite all these challenges posed by COVID-19, several new industries and business models have been engendered in the course of global response to COVID-19, such as virtual offices, online education and tele-health, making digital transformation another emerging area of BRI cooperation. We will strengthen cooperation with BRI partners, including the Philippines and other ASEAN members, in 5G, big data, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing, and push forward the building of the digital Silk Road as well as green Silk Road to advance sustainable development, realize transformation and upgrading, and enjoy high-quality development all together.

9. Regarding to some misconceptions among Philippine media about China, what are your priorities to the Philippines?

As China’s Ambassador to the Philippines, my priorities are to level up cooperation between good neighbors and join hands with the Philippines to achieve common progress, so as to bring tangible benefits to our two peoples and promote sustained peace and prosperity in our region.

Understanding is the precondition for trust, which in turn lays the foundation for cooperation. For China and the Philippines, the overall cooperation is making steady progress. We are building an increasingly practical and inclusive relationship. We have also seen fruitful outcomes in people-to-people exchanges in recent years. These are highlights in our overall bilateral relations. Good state-to-state relations hinge upon close people-to-people exchanges and heart-to-heart communication. To establish heart-to-heart communication, we need to engage each other, get to know each other and understand each other. China’s voices could hardly heard in this country. But the western media alone will not show you the complete picture of China and China-Philippines relations. Worse still, some of their biases can be misleading. As a result, misinterpretations and misunderstandings still exist. We have to work together to promote better, deeper, and more realistic mutual understanding between our two countries, which is in our mutual interests.

Therefore, I hope our media friends could open an objective and balancing window, presenting to the Philippine people a true and complete picture of China, so as to enable the Philippine people to better understand China, promote trust and amity between our two countries, see the tangible benefits that the China-Philippines cooperation brings to the peoples, and nurture a favorable atmosphere for the China-Philippines relationship to grow from strength to strength.

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