By Camille A. Aguinaldo
SENATOR LOREN B. Legarda on Sunday said the Philippines should maximize its trade opportunities with China while it resolves political tensions over the latter’s increased militarization in the disputed South China Sea.
“In terms of services and trade in agriculture, (this is) something we should pursue (with China) while resolving the political tension and claim of territory,” she said in a radio interview.
Ms. Legarda, chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations, said the Chinese ambassador informed her in a meeting last Saturday of the insufficient agriculture exports of Philippines to China, especially on fruits.
According to the Pilipino Banana Growers and Exporters Association, China is currently the Philippine’s second biggest export market for banana, the country’s number two agricultural commodity after coconut products.
The senator stressed that the Philippines should not ignore economic opportunities with China and take advantage of the current friendly relations as pursued by the Duterte administration.
“Let’s bridge areas on ties that bind, in areas we agree. When we bridge the gaps there, we can resolve the area of territory,” she said.
March 2018 export data from the Philippine Statistics Authority show China ranked fourth in export shipments after the United States, Hong Kong, and Japan. Outbound shipments to China was valued at $676.21 million, comprising 12.3% of total exports for the month.
In the same month, China logged in as the country’s biggest source of imports with a 15.3% share of the $8.12 billion total. Import payments to China reached $1.24 billion.
Compared with the March 2017 trade performance, exports contracted by 3.1% $697.53 million, while imports dropped 12.0% from $1.41 billion
Ms. Legarda also said she will conduct a hearing on China relations and related matters while Congress is on break.
“We can look into it and have consultations, briefing, hearings during the break. I will do this not to inflame tensions… It’s important that we use diplomacy to solve the West Philippine Sea,” she said.
Senate resolutions were filed last May calling for a legislative inquiry into China’s installation of missiles systems in Philippine claimed territories.
A senate resolution urges the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to file a diplomatic protest. Another calls on President Rodrigo R. Duterte to convene the National Security Council.
Ms. Legarda opined that the Philippines must exhaust all forms of diplomacy and to continue engaging with China to maintain the lines of communication. She pointed out that the complex issues could not be easily solved by the Duterte administration.
“We don’t expect a two-year-old administration to solve the problem that the past administrations cannot solve,” she said.
China has been continuing its militarization activities in the South China Sea by installing a weapons defense system and deploying bomber planes amid the warnings of other claimant countries and the United States.
Chinese military bases were already constructed in the three features in Spratlys Island despite a 2016 ruling from the United Nations’ Hague arbitral tribunal that these areas belong to the Philippines.