IN HIS spacious office at the Mandarin Plaza Hotel, Chinese Consul General Jia Li narrated the historical ties between the Philippines and China, citing that trade had been going on between the two countries since the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD).
The ancient eastern king of Sulu, Paduka Pahala (also known as Paduka Batara), went to China with more than 300 people in his delegation “to establish a friendship with the Ming Dynasty’s Yongle Emperor.” Unfortunately, the former died in this journey, but the Chinese built a tomb for him in Decheng District in Dezhou—a tomb which still stands today.
The ancient trade of silk, tea, porcelain and metal from China, in exchange for pearl, cotton, gold and coconut from the Philippines has been going on for centuries now.
Though there had been a falling out between the two countries, ties were renewed with the opening of the Chinese Embassy in Manila in 1975 and the Cebu Consulate in 1995.
In 1989, Jia took the diplomatic examination to enter the Chinese diplomatic service. He was then assigned to places like Macedonia, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. This is his second posting in Cebu, Philippines but his first as Consul General. Now, he is tasked to promote bilateral relations, encourage practical cooperation between the two countries in trade, support education and people-to-people cooperation.
There are about 450,000 Filipinos of Chinese descent in his area of responsibility but only about 20,000 Chinese nationals, Consul Jia noted. Most of those of Chinese descent no longer have relations with Chinese culture and are Filipino citizens. He finds them and the Cebuanos “very welcoming and very honest.”
The Consulate’s area of jurisdiction is Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas and Western Visayas. During his five months in office, Consul Jia has not yet been able to visit all of the provinces and cities in these areas. However, he has been to Iloilo, where there are four Chinese schools, and has also been to Bohol, particularly the island of Panglao.
Consul Jia noted that the relationship between China and the Philippines has improved a lot under the presidency of Rodrigo Roa Duterte, who has been to China three times, while Chinese President Xi Jinping has been to the Philippines once.
“The two countries have signed 29 documents for future projects including infrastructure, trade, investments, education and people-to-people exchange,” he said. With President Duterte’s latest trip to China, for the “One Belt, One Road” international forum (with 124 countries participating), 19 more documents have been signed which will create 300,000 job opportunities.
Consul Jia happily noted that there has been an increase of Chinese tourists coming to the Philippines as well. In 2018, there were about 1.3 million tourists from China coming to the Philippines—half of them coming to Cebu. This year, 1.5 million tourists from China are expected and half of them will also be Cebu-bound. Already this year, three Chinese delegations have visited Cebu, the latest of which, came from Shandong Province as 40 Chinese investors attended a trade investment forum in Marco Polo Plaza Cebu.
On a personal note, Consul Jia is a polyglot having studied Slavic and Bulgarian. He also enjoys the food here, whether at Chinese eateries or in local restaurants. He especially likes the seafood, “sinugba and puso.” He loves the “blue sky and the white beach” and—in his polo barong—he certainly looks very much at home in Cebu City.