Music and diplomacy
BEIJING—Over the last year or so, commented Rao Huihua, deputy director of the First Bureau of the International Department of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, officials have sensed a shift in Filipino attitudes toward China. Where before Filipino officials visiting this city said “they were looking forward to better trade with China,” said Rao, in the months between, they have felt increasing “suspicions” of Chinese intentions in the region.
This may be the reason for the party’s invitation to the local Association of Women Legislators, led by Rep. Gina de Venecia, to visit China once more with a delegation of 14 congresswomen and get a better understanding of Chinese social and foreign policy.
Over 10 days, the congresswomen were brought to Guangzhou, Kunming and this city to better understand China’s policy of outreach to its neighbors (the “21st Century Maritime Silk Road” and the “One Belt, One Road Initiative”), its efforts at social amelioration and eradication of rural poverty, and steps the state has taken at modernization.
Rao also expressed interest in the coming elections in the country, saying she hopes that a change in government will bring with it “new opportunities and better communication.”
The “piedra china” or Chinese stones, ballast material used in Chinese junks that were converted into cobblestones in Intramuros, were the centerpiece of Representative De Venecia’s response. She said that like the stones that were creatively reused to pave streets, relations between Chinese and Filipino officials and people could be strengthened and built by “building blocks” like friendly exchanges and counterweights “to keep the ark of Sino-Philippine friendship friendly.”
Indeed, the congresswoman added, she had filed last year a proposal in Congress to create a Philippine-China Council “to be composed of peacemakers, economic experts, historians and representatives from the academe and civil society” to meet with their Chinese counterparts and “create space for bilateral and even multilateral diplomacy” and perhaps “resolve the causes of conflict.”
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But if formal and informal talks cannot do the trick, then perhaps relations of a more personal or cordial nature would be more effective. After the “informal discussion” with Madame Rao, we were treated to a lunch hosted by Chen Fengxiang, vice minister of the CPC Central Committee International Department.
Chen, who had said in a previous visit that the Chinese look on Filipinos “as family members,” spoke of the friendship he personally shared with former Speaker Joe de Venecia, through their work in the International Conference of Asian Political Parties. China, he added, “attaches great importance to visits of Filipino delegates,” looking forward to hearing the impressions of the visitors,” and reiterating that China seeks to establish “good neighborly relations” with countries in the region.
As the meal drew to a close, the Filipino women, clad in our Cora Manimbo-designed modern Filipiniana, shared the Filipino ditty “Ang Pipit” and the Chinese ballad “The Moon Represents my Heart,” with Chen and Rao joining us since the second song is apparently very popular. And then Chen surprised us all when he volunteered to return the favor by singing two songs about his native Mongolia, impressing us with his powerful voice and felt rendition.
Music is indeed a universal language, and one that can move, touch and maybe even change minds and hearts!
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On our final day, we paid a visit to the Beijing Foreign Studies University, founded in 1941 and offering more foreign language programs than any other institution in China. Today, it offers more than just language studies and offers students a chance to learn international business, journalism and diplomacy and international relations.
Its 1,900 students occupy a modest-sized campus and there are extensive pre- and post-graduate programs to prepare its graduates for employment, including coordination with human resource officers of private firms as well as government ministries such as foreign affairs.
One interesting feature of the university is the “Business Incubator,” a network of student-run enterprises where students can train in the nitty-gritty of entrepreneurship. The incubator includes a bookstore, a coffee shop and a shop selling university-themed accessories such as t-shirts, mugs, key chains and other such paraphernalia.
At once, our group pounced on the merchandise, buying up, it seemed, the entire supply of merchandise on display, most popular of which was the stuffed parrot wearing a mortar board, the university mascot.
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Afterward, enjoying our free coffee and cheesecakes, pairs or small groups of students chatted us up. They were apparently practicing their English, but also wanted to know our impressions of China, and what Filipinos back home thought of their country.
The two young men who sat down to talk with us seemed eager to take on the challenges of entrepreneurship, not unlike the many other Chinese we encountered throughout our three-city travels who engaged in their trades with eagerness and alacrity.
“I hope to read about you someday and what a great success you have become,” I told the pair, and they seemed genuinely pleased and encouraged. This may be what “people-to-people diplomacy” is all about—the sharing of thoughts, ideas and, more important, feelings. The larger geopolitical issues may dominate our consciousness for now, but the personal relations will be the ones to long endure.
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