China modernization and the West PH Sea | Inquirer Opinion
Inside Track

China modernization and the West PH Sea

It was China Politics 101 at Wilson Lee Flores’ Pandesal Forum last Tuesday, where Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian discussed what’s at stake for the Philippines and the world after the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC) held its much-anticipated 20th national congress from Oct. 16 to 22. The national congress elected Chinese President Xi Jinping to a historic third term of five more years, an expected outcome that observers said put Xi alongside China’s great leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

As former presidential political adviser Ronald Llamas, a panelist in the forum, aptly put it, one can never understand China without understanding the CPC. Huang explained at the forum the leadership tiers in the CPC, whose members were elected during the congress: the central committee, composed of 205 officials; out of it the political bureau comprising 24 people, and then the standing committee, which makes the key policy decisions, composed of seven leaders.


On top of the standing committee sits the most powerful person in all of China—the General Secretary—none other than Xi for the last 10 years and counting. This 205-24-7-1 political hierarchy, consolidated around Xi and reportedly packed with his loyalists, essentially calls the shots for the nation of 1.4 billion people, the world’s second-biggest economy, and the most assertive military power in the region.

“It’s a very strong leadership which will guide us in the next five years,” said Huang. He said Xi reported during the congress three major achievements: first, embracing the centenary of the CPC (the party marked 100 years last year) and setting the stage for its second centenary in power; second, ushering in a “new era of socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and third, eradicating absolute poverty by lifting 100 million people out of it. Xi spelled out his vision to “build China into a great modern socialist country in all respects” and “advance the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation on all fronts through Chinese modernization.”


Said Huang: “Chinese modernization, simply put, is the socialist modernization led by the CPC, which not only has the common characteristics of modernization of all countries but also has Chinese characteristics based on its national condition.” This modernization, he added, is different from the “capital-centered, expanded materialism” of Western models. China, he said, will achieve “modernization through peaceful means” and will “not take the path of modernization through war or colonization,” a reference to tensions brought about by China’s actions in the South China Sea and toward Taiwan.

What does Xi’s renewed mandate mean for the Philippines? More of the same, if one were to go by Huang’s answers.

Huang said China and the Philippines need to “focus on the future and grasp new opportunities of cooperation” and development. China, he noted, is the Philippines’ biggest trading partner (and of 140 countries in total) and is keen to deepen economic and cultural ties with the Philippines through more investments in agriculture, infrastructure, clean energy, and people-to-people exchanges.

China is “working very hard” on some 40 projects pledged during the Duterte administration and is open to discussing the three multibillion-peso railway projects scrapped in its last few days, Huang said. Similarly, he said, China is ready to resume talks on the oil and gas exploration in the West Philippine Sea that were signed in 2018 but terminated shortly before Rodrigo Duterte left office over possible violations of the Philippine Constitution.

As for the United States’ plan to build facilities and pre-position military assets in Philippine bases, Huang said China has no objection to this as long as it “would not be directed against China.”

“What China brings to the Philippines is not colonization and war, but cooperation and friendship,” he said. As neighbors, Huang said, it is normal to have differences, but the two countries should not allow these differences to get in the way of, or sabotage, development and diplomatic relations.

“Experience tells us that development is key to solving all issues,” Huang said.


The ambassador expressed admiration for President Marcos Jr.’s policies, and said China will “never forget” how his father initiated the establishment of Philippine diplomatic relations with China.

Despite those words, the Philippines under Mr. Marcos may be in for disappointment should it expect a more cooperative and more nuanced Chinese stance over its persistent intrusions in the West Philippine Sea. Asked how China can help improve the situation of Filipino fishermen displaced by Chinese ships in the West Philippine Sea, the ambassador replied: “I’m happy to see that both (Filipino and Chinese) fishermen have been getting along peacefully.”


Juliet Labog-Javellana is associate publisher of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Email: [email protected]

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TAGS: China, marcos, West Philippine Sea, Xi Jinping
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