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China envoy urged to avoid ‘veiled threats’

MAOXIAOLING liquor-filled chocolate, made by China’s luxury liquor brand Kweichow Moutai in collaboration with Mars, Inc.-owned Dove, is officially launched in Shanghai, China on Sept. 16, 2023. — REUTERS

CHINA’s top envoy to the Philippines should avoid “veiled threats” against Manila and its allies to avoid further straining their relations amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, political analysts said at the weekend.

This comes after Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian’s remarks at a business forum on Philippine-China relations last week that nations that “talk down on” and misjudge China would miss out on opportunities as it sets an economic expansion target of about 5% this year.

“Mr. Huang should stop making veiled threats to the government and its partners during his tour of duty in the Philippines,” Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst and convenor of think tank InfraWatch PH, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“The Philippines is in no position to talk down on Beijing because China is a superpower and its Coast Guard and maritime militia have been regularly harassing our fishing vessels within our own exclusive economic zone,” he added.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not immediately reply to a Viber message seeking comment.

The envoy’s remarks came just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Manila to reaffirm America’s “ironclad” commitments to defend the Philippines against an armed attack in the South China Sea.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang first announced the growth target early this month to boost confidence in China’s economy as it deals with deflationary pressures, a struggling property sector, an exodus of foreign capital, a stock market rout and a record-low birth rate.

In his speech last week, Mr. Huang said China’s growth target is expected to “far exceed” the International Monetary Fund’s growth forecast for the US and European Union. Its economy will have become twice the size that of the Philippines by yearend.

The Chinese economy has been showing positive signals since the start of the year, including a 7.7% increase in domestic tourist spending during the Chinese New Year to 632.6 billion yuan (P4.9 trillion) from 2019, he added.

China’s total trade in goods in the first two months of this year grew by 8.7% from a year earlier to 6.61 trillion yuan.

China should look into its own issues in urban planning and its struggling property sector before it brags about economic growth, Hansley A. Juliano, a political science professor at the Ateneo de Manila University, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

“There seems to be this overwhelming belief in Beijing that offense is the best defense,” he said. “I also get the impression Mr. Huang’s job in Chinese foreign policy is to be the torpedo and bulldoze everyone, which gives Beijing plausible deniability should there be a policy change.”

The ambassador said China has been the Philippines’ biggest trading partner for eight straight years, and one of its biggest sources of foreign investments.

“The Chinese and the Philippine economy are both part of the global value, industrial and supply chains,” Mr. Huang said. “We have formed a deeply intertwined pattern of interests.” — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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