By Macon Ramos-Araneta | Manila Standard Today
Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told an international forum this week that the territorial dispute over the West Philippine Sea should be only a minor part of the country’s relationship with China.
“I know that our two countries did not enter into an agreement to establish diplomatic relations in 1975 so we can quarrel over our conflicting claims in the West Philippine Sea,” said Marcos, in a speech delivered Monday at the China-Southeast Asia People’s High-Level Dialogue in Nanning City in Guangxi, China.
“With that in mind, I propose that instead of making that conflict the main feature of our relationship, let us make it a minor part and pursue further contacts, exchanges and cooperation in other sectors,” said Marcos, whose father had established diplomatic relations with China during his martial law regime in the 1970s.
One obvious area for growth is trade, which has doubled from 2009, Marcos said.
“Although that sounds encouraging, when taken in absolute terms, the figure of $12.8 billion still leaves great room for growth,” said Marcos.
Marcos said tourism also holds great promise.
“This has increased in recent years such that China is now the fourth largest tourist market for the Philippines,” he said.
The latest data from the Tourism Department showed that China ranked No. 4 in terms of visitor arrivals during the first quarter.
Furthermore, Marcos said, individual and social contact would surely reduce tensions as “we put a face to each other at a more human and personal level.”
Marcos said the time is ripe for cooperation in other areas such as education, as exemplified by an initiative to establish Confucius Institutes in the University of the Philippines and the Ateneo de Manila University.
With the Association of Southeast Asian Nations heading toward integration in 2015, Marcos said, there is an urgency for cooperation, not only between China and the Philippines but also between China and Asean.
Exchanges in agricultural technology, culture and the arts, health care, social protection and disaster recovery are other areas for greater cooperation, the senator said.
On Tuesday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called for claimants in the South
China Sea to jointly develop resources to avoid conflict and prevent “extra-regional states” from becoming involved.
Najib cited a joint development zone in waters claimed by Thailand and Malaysia as a precedent that could be applied in the South China Sea. Vietnam and the Philippines reject China’s map as a basis for joint development in the waters, part of which are also claimed by Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
“Agreeing to share prosperity, rather than let it divide us, is infinitely preferable to the alternative,” Najib said in a speech in Kuala Lumpur.