Keep Abreast of the Right Side of History to Achieve Common Development in the Challenging World
--Keynote speech by Amb. Huang at Webinar On China’s development and China-Philippines relations
2020/09/25

Next week, we are going to celebrate the 71st anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Rejoicing at the festive occasion brings back memories of my loved hometown, a thousand-year-old village in Fujian Province facing the Philippines across the sea. When I was a little boy, poverty prevailed in the village and some fellow villagers were even short of food and clothes. Over a few decades, tremendous changes have taken place. Today my fellow villagers not only have sufficient food and fashionable clothes, but also own cars and houses in a nice neighborhood. The village has also been urbanized with the establishment of extensive transportation network and manufacturing factories without compromising ecological improvement.

The story of my hometown was a miniature of China’s development over the past decades. China has completed the industrialization process in decades that developed countries have gone through for hundreds of years. Since it was founded in 1949, especially in the past four decades since reform and opening up, China has grown into the world’s second largest economy and a manufacturing giant equipped with a complete range of industries from scratch, contributing over 30 percent to global growth for the past ten-plus years in row and over 70 percent to global poverty reduction.

Pondering on such remarkable development and changes, people frequently asked me how China could make it a reality. Three key factors have come to my mind and I would like to share with you my thoughts on them.

First, China owes its development achievement to the leadership of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The aspiration and mission of CPC is to fulfill the Chinese people’s pursuit of happiness and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Following the principle “from the people and for the people”, CPC has built close bonds with the people, just like flesh and blood, fish and water. Latest opinion polling conducted by Pew Research and Harvard University revealed that, over 90 percent of Chinese citizen respondents were satisfied with Chinese government and this rate ranked among the top worldwide.

Second, China has committed to the path of peaceful development. Former US President Jimmy Carter used to compare the US with China, concluding that “the US has only enjoyed 16 years of peace in its 242-year history, making the country the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” while China has been “at peace” and has sensibly invested in infrastructure to achieve “breakneck growth”. I cannot agree more with his insight. Since its founding of the People’s Republic, China has never provoked a war, nor occupied an inch of others’ land. For the past three decades, China’s defense expenditure as a percentage of GDP has remained below 2 percent, far behind that of the US and other major countries.

Third, China has been empowered by the great Chinese people. What we have achieved in the past 71 years is not a godsend, still less a gift from others. It derives from the hard work, wisdom and courage of the Chinese people from all walks of life. President Xi Jinping has encouraged the Chinese people to strive for a better life, “Let us roll up sleeves and go full speed ahead with hard work.” Some foreign friends also commented that no wonder China could achieve such an impressive development since the Chinese people has spent other people’s coffee and beer time on working.

Inevitably, the highly compressed industrialization process also made us encounter “growing pains”. We are well aware that China is still a developing country, with such problems to be solved as unbalanced and inadequate development, disparities in income distribution and environment awaits better protection. It is our belief that development holds the key to resolving all the problems and we will be dedicated to continuously building a prosperous, democratic, civilized, harmonious and beautiful China.

As President Xi Jinping mentioned in his remarks at the high-level meeting to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the United Nations four days ago, “major changes unseen in a century are taking place in our world. The sudden attack of COVID-19 is a grave test for the entire world. Mankind has entered a new era of interconnectedness, with countries sharing intertwined interests and their future closely linked together.” Faced with such challenges, countries around the world now stand at crossroad and need to make a crucial choice, a choice between building bridges and building walls, between openness and seclusion, between cooperation and confrontation.

It is saddening to see that, the superpower disregarding the trend of history, has been stoking ideology confrontation internationally, publicly coercing countries into choosing sides and sabotaging international cooperation against the pandemic for its own political gains. These acts are threatening to push the interdependent and stable world to the brink of turmoil and division.

No country has the right to dominate global affairs, control the destiny of others, or keep advantages in development all to itself. Even less should one be allowed to do whatever it likes and be the hegemon, bully or boss of the world. As a responsible major country, China has resolutely dedicated to safeguarding the world’s peace and development and building a community with shared future for mankind. We will continue to uphold multilateralism, international system centered on the United Nations, expand mutually beneficial cooperation and jointly tackle the COVID-19 pandemic and other global challenges with international community at our best.

Action speaks louder than words. It is not hard to tell which countries stand on the right side of history and which ones move against the trend toward peace, development and win-win cooperation of the times.

Deeply integrated with historical, cultural and economic bonds, China and neighboring countries share a future that is ever more intertwined. A prosperous China is an indispensable part of the collective rejuvenation of Asian countries, and also represents the shared vision of developing countries around the globe. The ongoing crisis has intensified pressure and challenges for regional countries, yet looking from another perspective, also has brewed unmissable opportunity for us to strengthen unity, mutual assistance and common development, as what we did amid crises in the past.

The Philippines is on the track to become an upper -middle income country, with its economic development and industrial optimization approaching a critical turning point. It is pivotal for the the Philippines to mull over the situation, so as not to miss the trend of the times. I always believe that, the Philippines’ future will not float in anywhere, but will be deeply rooted in its own national development, in a stable and amicable neighborhood, and in a peaceful and prosperous Asian region.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between China and the Philippines. As a Chinese proverb goes, “Only friendship built on sincerity can endure.” For 45 years, profound friendship and win-win cooperation have always been the main theme of bilateral relations. Under the leadership of President Xi Jinping and President Duterte, China-Philippines relations have been moving along the upward trajectory and ushering in the New Golden Age. Mutual political trust, practical cooperation and people-to-people exchanges have been continuously strengthened and deepened, which have not only benefited the two peoples, but also contributed to the regional stability and prosperity. Facing the common challenge of the COVID-19, both countries have spared no efforts to support and assist each other, nurturing a closer partnership in the new era.

In order to further broaden new prospects and scale new heights for bilateral relations, I believe China and the Philippines should properly handle the following four questions.

Firstly, how to navigate China-Philippines relations toward the right direction?

China and the Philippines are close neighbors. As we Chinese often say, “Close neighbors are better than relatives far away.”Our amicable ties should not be over-set or weakened by some particular differences or disputes. Nothing but good-neighborly friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation meets the fundamental interests of the two countries and peoples, which has been solidified during our joint fight against COVID-19. The important consensus reached between President Xi Jinping and President Duterte, such as putting aside maritime disputes, managing the situation through bilateral consultations and enhancing dialogue and cooperation, have to be vigorously implemented by both sides, so that the sound momentum of bilateral relations as guidepost to the way forward could be well preserved and enhanced.

Secondly, in the COVID-19 new normal and post-pandemic era, how to enhance China-Philippines cooperation across the board?

Both China and the Philippines have been striving for economic development and social progress. With the unique advantages of geographical adjacency and complementary economic structures, the two countries are each other’s salient trade and development partners. Despite the fact that global trade and cooperation has been battered severely amid the pandemic, the total value of China’s newly signed contracts of projects in the Philippines still scored an increase of 26.5 percent in the first half of the year, which highlights the huge potential in bilateral cooperation. As one of the first countries to stem the spread of the COVID-19, China has steadily revived economy. The Chinese economy is picking up momentum, to be the first major economy bouncing back to growth, with its GDP expanding by 3.2 percent year-on-year in the second quarter, and foreign trade rising by 6 percent in August.

China will continue to engage with the Philippines in joint COVID-19 prevention and control and exchange experience on resumption of work and production. We should step up efforts for the establishment of a “fast lane” for urgently needed personnel exchanges and “green corridor” for logistics, so as to ensure stable industrial and supply chains. China stands ready to further synergize the Belt and Road Initiative and Build, Build, Build program and accelerate the implementation of cooperation projects to stimulate economic recovery and growth of the Philippines. we should also seize the new opportunities highlighted amid the pandemic, to strengthen such digital economic cooperation areas as 5G, big data, and artificial intelligence to foster new growth drivers for bilateral cooperation.

Thirdly, how to properly handle the differences between the two countries?

It is just normal to have differences even among best friends. What matters is how we handle and manage those differences. The South China Sea issue is only a small part of China-Philippines relations; or as Foreign Secretary Locsin put it, just a little pebble on the avenue leading to our mutually beneficial economic progress, and we mustn’t stumble over the little pebble. In April 1988, the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping told the visiting Philippine president Cory Aquino that, “in view of the friendly relations between our two countries, we can put aside the issue for some time being and take the approach of joint development.”

Dialogue mechanisms such as the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism (BCM) between our two countries are working well to manage differences and explore practical cooperation. With the joint efforts of China and ASEAN countries including the Philippines, the consultation of the Code of Conduct (COC) in the South China Sea has been proceeding steadily despite the COVID-19 challenge. This proves that regional countries including China and the Philippines have the capability and wisdom to manage differences without compromising bilateral relations and regional stability.

Countries enjoy freedom of navigation in the South China Sea in accordance with the international law. We should not allow external powers to roil the waters in the South China Sea, nor derail the sound development of China-Philippines friendly relations. History has time and again taught us bitter lessons that intervention of external powers could only bring tears and fire, turmoil and unrest, to regional countries at the end of the day, which would be the last thing we would like to see.

Peace and stability is China’s utmost strategic interest in the South China Sea, which also serves the common fundamental interests of ASEAN countries, including the Philippines. Nothing could get in our way to work together to overcome external disruptions and safeguard the peace and stability in the region.

Last but not the least, how to present a real China to our Filipino friends?

Frankly speaking, I often read the media reports and remarks of a handful of politicians with a heavy heart, which seem to customarily focus on the negative and often inaccurate or even biased news and views about China and the Chinese people. Some organizations and individuals even took it as political correctness to discredit and demonize China out of ulterior political motives, which severely undermine amicable sentiments between our two peoples.

There were some groundless and misleading accusations going on, such as the so-called “Chinese projects security threat”, “China debt trap” and “China disrupted the COC consultation”. In fact, there is no any evidence that Chinese projects threaten the Philippines’ security. Instead, these projects are contributing to your national building. Amid the pandemic, Chinese enterprises in the Philippines have actively committed to social responsibilities by donating well-needed medical supplies to local governments and hospitals. They have also proceeded steadily with a good coordination of epidemic prevention and work resumption, which contribute to the economic recovery and social stability in the Philippines. According to the latest statistics, about 50 large-scale Chinese enterprises based in the Philippines have employed more than 18 thousand Filipinos so far, and the number is expected to increase in the coming years. As for China debt, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas(BSP) has already disclosed that loans from China only accounts for merely 0.65 percent of the country’s total debt. Even if all the planned financing were implemented, the figure would only be around 4.5 percent by 2022, still much lower than that of other major foreign lenders.

On the COC consultation, China has been sincere in attitude, and firm in resolve. It was our Premier Li Keqiang who proposed in 2018 to conclude the consultation within three years. China has committed to speed up COC consultation with ASEAN countries, and looks forward to achieving substantive progress within the Philippines’ coordinator-ship for China-ASEAN dialogue relations, so as to promote the peace and stability in South China Sea.

Mutual understanding and good faith between our two peoples have to be further enhanced through extensive people-to-people exchanges and interactions and boycott rumor-mongering that slander China-Philippines relations. Given that personnel visits and face-to-face communication are restricted, we should extend on-line channels for strengthening exchanges between political parties, congress, local governments, media and think tanks of our two countries, to foster a favorable atmosphere for the China-Philippines relations to grow from strength to strength.

In the phone call with President Duterte last June, President Xi Jinping said, “History will prove that friendship between China and the Philippines serves the fundamental and long-term interests of the two countries and peoples.” Keeping abreast of the trend of the times and seizing development opportunities will surely bring us an ever brighter future. Let us join hands now and make concrete efforts to further deepen the relationship of comprehensive strategic cooperation for common development and prosperity.

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