Filipino-Chinese businessmen urged Manila and Beijing to further “widen the doors” of tourism as a way to build understanding and reduce distrust caused by the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
Dr. Cecilio Pedro, president of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) said the private sector is helping President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. promote tourism.
As its first salvo, FFCCCII brought a delegation from Huangshan City, renowned for its majestic mountain.
Led by Yong Lang, Secretary General of Huangshan Municipal Committee, the Chinese delegation from Huangshan City is in the Philippines to sign a sisterhood city agreement with local executives from Marcos’ hometown, Laoag City.
“The key here is understanding. How do we promote understanding? They come here. We go there. Once you understand each other, it’s very easy for you to invest,” Pedro said.
Pedro, founder and president of the toothpaste brand Hapee, said the Chinese government is keen on following through on its commitment to President Marcos to help boost tourism.
“Right now, the Chinese are pooling together resources so that they can bring Chinese tourists coming over to the Philippines. There are Chinese delegations coming over to promote tourism and economic development,” he said.
In 2019, China was the Philippines’s number one source of foreign tourists with 1.9 million visitors who spent their holidays in Boracay, Cebu, Bohol and Palawan.
However, due to the pandemic, Chinese nationals were not allowed to leave China until only last January.
Pedro said he is confident that Chinese tourists will come back to the Philippines and that will China become the top source of international tourists again.
“Ang problema natin ngayon ay ‘yung visa. Medyo naiipit sila (Chinese). We have discussed this with the Department of Foreign Affairs,” he said.
“China said they are also opening up. They will give more visas. Kaya lang we are also very careful in choosing the right people to come over. Baka may mga illegal. Ayaw natin ‘yun,” Pedro added.
He said there is there is a perception that President Marcos is “less friendly” with China, compared to his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.
“He (Marcos) is more Chinese than Digong (Duterte). He has Chinese blood,” Pedro said.
The FFCCCII said he was part of the Philippine business delegation during the visit of Marcos to China last January.
“Kung hindi ako kasama ni Presidente sa China, siguro di ko maintindihan ‘yun,” he said when asked by the media during a press briefing. “Pero ang direksyon ng pangulo ay kaibigan ang lahat.”
He said the policy of President Marcos of being “a friend to all, an enemy to none” entails a lot of work.
He believes the Philippines can play a pivotal role in bridging China and the United States in promoting better understanding.
“China is not only promoting China. But it is also promoting peace among nations. Hindi ‘yung away. The agenda of China is peaceful coexistence. How do we live with our neighbors, how do we encourage investments both ways” Pedro said.
The Chinese tourism market has been tapped by many countries as a key economic driver. In 2019, 155 million Chinese travelled abroad, spending around $254.6 billion, making them one of the biggest tourism spenders.