Zhao arrived in Manila last year, nearly a month before the deadline for the Philippines’s written pleading in its case against China at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. It was a month later that he presented his credentials to President Aquino in Malacañang.
And, while waiting for the verdict by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, Zhao never tires of repeating his country’s stand in many public forums on how the Philippines and China should address their differences without resorting to armed conflict.
Attired in his signature outfit during the Spring Festival celebration at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City last Friday, Zhao told Filipinos in the audience that “China and the Philippines are close neighbors, partners and relatives.”
“Our two peoples are bound by profound and resilient friendship forged through a millennium of long amicable exchanges. It is the common aspiration of our two peoples to deepen friendship and cooperation,” he said.
At the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) celebration marking 40 years of diplomatic ties between the Philippines and China on March 4, Zhao said: “The most famous thinker and philosopher Confucius once said, ‘When a man turns 40, he is never confused.’ As our relationship turns 40, we should never be confused. We should be friends, and we should be partners.”
‘A man stays at home’
Zhao is fond of quoting aphorisms, proverbs and sayings.
Asked if he had gone around the country, he said he saw Bohol and Cebu, and intends to visit Laoag and Palawan in the coming months.
Queried if he goes swimming or scuba diving, he replied: “There is a Chinese saying that says, ‘A man stays at home.’ I never go sightseeing. I’m always on official business.”
In an earlier interview, he said: “I am not pessimistic. 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.”’
“I believe that we have the wisdom, patience, courage and ability to settle disputes through negotiations and consultations, and to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation between China and the Philippines.”
History as mirror of the future
Zhao, citing a long history of trade between Manila and Beijing, began his speech at the DFA celebration with a Chinese proverb: “If you take history as a mirror, you shall know the future.”
He pointed out that the Chinese and Filipinos “began friendly exchanges over 1,000 years ago.”
“Our forefathers set us a good example of friendly cooperation,” he said, noting that, more than a thousand years ago, both countries were engaged in trading and exchanges of goods.
Zhao said Filipinos imported silk and porcelain from China, while the Chinese brought home crops, such as corn, potatoes and tomatoes, from the Philippines.
He said the Galleon Trade, which lasted for 250 years, brought China’s products to Manila and on to Mexico to eventually find their way to Europe.
“More and more Filipinos and Chinese learn and embrace each other’s cultures,” Zhao said, adding that, in 2014, more than 420,000 Chinese tourists visited the country.
A top trading partner
Zhao said that, during the 40 years of bilateral relations, trade had grown from $72 million to $40.5 billion.
“That is 560 times growth,” he said, emphasizing that this made China one of the Philippines’s top trading partners.
Zhao said Alibaba.com, a Chinese online business platform, sells dried mangoes, which are imported monthly from the Philippines and consumed by more than 300,000 Chinese each month. On the other hand, the China-made Cherry cellular phones are among the most popular in the country.
“Today we deepen our friendship and enrich our country through diplomacy, trade, investments and people-to-people cultural exchanges.”
Stability, peace in the region
Zhao said he looks to a future of great opportunities between the two countries, as he invites those present at the Spring Festival celebration to share the good luck and happiness of the Chinese New Year.
He said the Year of the Sheep, according to Chinese culture and tradition, signifies “peace, gentleness and perseverance.”
“Please allow me to give a diplomatic interpretation of the Year of the Sheep.
“Let us maintain stability and peace in the region, particularly in the South China Sea. Let us be kind and gentle to each other, and let us be hardworking and persevering in making new progress for the betterment of China-Philippines relations.”
Zhao added that our development is becoming better coordinated and more sustainable: “In 2015 it is crucial for us to continue our comprehensive and deepening reforms. It is a critical year to ensure steady growth and structural adjustments. We will focus on achieving the due objectives of maintaining a medium-to high-level economic growth, and moving to a high level of social development.”
“We need to maintain policy continuity and keep expectations stable, while carrying out reforms and structural adjustments,” he added. “And we need to turn popular entrepreneurship and innovation, enhance supply of public goods and services, and increased consumption as the new engines to drive China’s growth and development.”
Major targets achieved
According to Zhao, China had accomplished major targets last year for economic and social development.
Citing figures, he said their gross domestic product (GDP) had reached $10.6 trillion, an increase of 7.4 percent over the previous year, creating 13 million new jobs and allowing 6 million college-graduate job opportunities.
He said China contributed 27.8 percent to the world’s economic growth and more than 50 percent to the Asian region.
The Chinese envoy said the number of outbound Chinese tourists exceeded 100 million. Philippine tourism authorities had expressed that, if the country could invite just 10 percent of these tourists, a figure that would be equal to around 10 million, the country’s tourism industry would be greatly boosted.
Advances in technology
China is now the world’s leader in railway technology. Zhao said an additional 8,427 kilometers of railway lines were put into operation, and the length of high-speed railway that is up and running in China reached 16,000 km, accounting for more than 60 percent of the world’s total.
“The length of China’s expressway grew to a total of 112,000 km,” he said.
To maintain their level of economic development, Zhao said China set the target GDP growth at approximately 7 percent.
“We will create over 10 million jobs in urban areas to ensure that registered urban unemployment rate does not rise above 4.5 percent.”
China, one of the earth’s major pollutants of the environment, aims to cut emission by 3.1 percent.
“To reach these targets, the Chinese government and the Chinese people will have to work hard to overcome a series of challenges and difficulties and, to reach this target, it is quite essential to maintain regional peace and stability and cooperation with our neighbors and countries in other parts of the world,” he explained.
The fruits of diplomacy
He said Chinese diplomacy has been fruitful in 2014.
“China successfully hosted the 22nd Apec Economic Leaders’ Meeting, the fourth summit of conference on interaction and confidence merit-building in Asia, and the BOAO forum,” adding that his country has made steady progress in developing relations with other major countries, such as the United States, Russia and Europe, and has entered a new phase of good neighborly diplomacy.
“And we have made new headways in our cooperation with other developing countries. Notable progress has been made in conducting economic diplomacy,” he said
Zhao noted that over 56 countries have welcomed the Silk Road economic belt and the 21st-century maritime silk-road initiatives.
“Actual implementation of these initiatives will begin this year.”
Likewise, he said the Asian infra-investment bank will become operational by the end of this year, and the $40-billion Silk Road fund will be utilized to finance infrastructure projects with China’s neighbors this year.
‘A millennium of long amicable exchanges’
“Our two peoples are bound by profound and resilient friendship forged through a millennium of long amicable exchanges. It is the common aspiration of our two peoples to deepen friendship and cooperation,” he expressed.
The Chinese ambassador said China is very glad to see that President Xi Jinping and President Aquino had a brief but friendly and significant talk during the Apec meeting in Beijing last year, “which has ushered in a fresh process to improve and enhance our bilateral relations.”
Zhao said the Chinese side is willing to work with the Philippines to move and bring our bilateral relationships to a new height.
In a sign of better cultural links, Zhao said that the yearlong celebration of the 40th year of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China would be marked by more cultural exchanges. He said that in October, a Shaolin delegation and Chinese ballet group would be visiting Manila. This reciprocates the visit to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing of Philippine Fiestas and Festivals, a photographic journey across the Philippine cultural scene, accompanied by performers to demonstrate popular street-dancing festivals, such as the Ati-Atihan, Panagbenga Flower Festival and Sinulog.