MANILA, Philippines—Beyond the nine-dash line, they found new friends.
A group of Chinese journalists is in town on a trip sponsored by the Philippine government, the first “familiarization” tour the Department of Foreign Affairs has hosted for China’s media amid tensions between Manila and Beijing over their claim in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
As much as the Filipinos want peace across the waters, so do their guests, who said they hoped to focus more on the positive side of Philippine and Chinese relations even as the two governments wrangle over ownership of the contested sea.
“I don’t want to write words against our neighboring countries … Criticism of the Philippines is not representative of all people who work at Global Times,” said Gu Dong, an editor at the fiercely nationalist Chinese paper known for its scathing opinion pieces on the Philippines.
His remarks were in response to an observation by Clarita Carlos, renowned political analyst and professor of geopolitics, who accused the Global Times of writing “provocative” commentary on the Philippines.
Carlos had engaged the tour participants in an exchange on the territorial dispute after giving them a primer on Philippine history, politics and foreign policy during a daylong forum organized by the DFA for the Chinese journalists at the plush Solaire Resort and Casino in Parañaque City Wednesday.
“For the geographic (territorial) issues, I hope this goes through the foreign ministries of both countries. For the media, we just express our news accurately. I will bring your criticism to our editors so that they can make balanced (reporting) in the coming news,” said Gu, his remarks translated into English by an interpreter.
Blogger Zhao Jing told Carlos that China’s territorial claim over the West Philippine Sea was well-entrenched with the Chinese public, as his country’s borders were part of the “Chinese narrative” reflected in the media and China’s education system.
“It’s kind of part of national beauty … it has become part of ‘Chineseness.’ It’s not from the international law of the sea but from textbooks,” explained Zhao.
He was referring to China’s nine-dash line, Beijing’s historical claim to territories in the South China Sea, which Manila believes is “excessive” and encroaches on its exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines has a pending arbitration case in the United Nations which seeks to nullify this Chinese delineation and to halt incursions into its maritime borders—a legal action that China has rejected, citing “indisputable” sovereignty over the waters.
Despite this, Zhao believes there is more to Manila-Beijing ties than this point of divergence.
“We should not put this issue as the number one issue between the two countries. We should isolate this,” Zhao said.
Su Biqing of Guangxi Daily agreed that the two countries should explore other possible areas of cooperation. He expressed hope that President Aquino would visit China during the China-Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Expo (Caexpo) to be held in Nanning from Sept. 3 to 6.
“I think the problem in the South China Sea [is something] we could put down first and look at other opportunities in other aspects. For example, the economy. For the President (Aquino), we want him in the Asean meeting because we have more possibility for development and other important things,” said Su.
Carlos replied, prompting laughter in the hall: “That’s excellent. I hope your military is listening to you.”
She emphasized the importance of thinking globally as opposed to nationally, saying that international borders would eventually be meaningless for future generations.
“Nationalism is a bad word in a globalized world. You are a citizen of the world. Borders should not have any meaning. Geography no longer matters,” said Carlos, referring to the growing trend of international integration.