OPINION: Reviving PH-China Silk Road ties

Ellen Tordesillas

Posted at Apr 27 2017 06:00 AM

GUANGZHOU,China –To underscore the ties that deeply bind the people of this bustling city and the Filipinos, Deputy Director General Luo Jun of Guangdong Province Foreign Affairs Office says that the Manila-Guangzhou flight takes only one hour and 45 minutes, same as Manila-Davao, while Guangzhou to Beijing takes three hours.

The nearness of Manila to Guangzhou and to nearby provinces of Fujian and Shenzhen is very much relevant to the One Belt-One Road initiative, an ambitious project unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013 that will re-create the ancient Silk Route that connected China and Europe as far back as 100 B.C.

On May 14 and 15, 28 world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Rodrigo Duterte or their representatives will gather in Beijing to provide impetus to the project that is mind-boggling in its scope and possibilities.

As its name suggests, the One-Belt-One Road, also known as the 21st Century Silk Road, has two main components: The Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

The Silk Road Economic Belt is composed of three routes: Central Asia, West Asia and South Asia. The Maritime Silk Road begins in China's Fujian and ends in Venice, Italy. It will pass through South China Sea, the Straits of Malacca, Lombok and Sunda on to the north Indian Ocean to the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Gulf of Aden.

A flurry of infrastructure building- roads, railroads, ports, bridges, airports, pipelines, power plants and telecommunications - is expected along the One Belt One Road corridors. The China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) launched two years ago will fill in the gap in infrastructure funding that is estimated to reach more than $2.5 trillion in ten years.

The participation of the Philippines in the 21st Century Silk Road will re-invigorate its crucial role as a link between Asia and Europe as what it did in the years of the Galleon Trade (1565 to 1815).

A paper by Professor Chen Yan, a professor of Peking University, said the first Filipino who came to Guangzhou was from Mindoro in 982 AD bringing native products. In the beginning merchants from Luzon came by way of Champs (Vietnam) and Brunei on the northern corner of Kalimantan Island. Later on a direct route from Luzon to Guangzhou was developed bringing more merchants on both sides.

The coming of the Spaniards to the Philippines in mid-1500 expanded the trading to the Americas in what is known as the Galleon Trade. Spanish trading ships made round-trip voyages once or twice per year across the Pacific Ocean from the port of Acapulco to Manila.

Chen said, "At that time most galleons setting out from Manila were made by Chinese workmen who had settled down there and clothes for the crew, giant jars for keeping drinking water and flour for eating all came from China. Moreover, 90 percent of the goods loaded on the ships were made in China, mostly silk and silk products. Occasionally, there were as many as 1,200 crates at a time. The ship was therefore known as "Silk Ship" and the new route was called 'Silk Route on the Pacific.' Ships carrying silk, porcelain and other consumer goods made in China sailed from the Moonport of Zhangzhou, Fuijan to Manila; the galleons loaded with these commodities sailed along maritime silk route to the port of Acapulco in Mexico; from there, Chinese goods were carried into cities of inland Mexico by donkeys totaling 75,000 in number.

"According to historical records, down to the end of the 18th century,63 percent of the total amount of goods imported into Mexico were silk and other commodities from China. When returning to Manila, the galleons brought a large number of silver dollars and goods made in Mexico which were then transferred to China."

Chen pointed out that at that time the Spanish colonialists were not in a position to produce any decent commodities acceptable to the Chinese people. The only way to achieve a trade balance was to export silver dollars which China was short of.

Chen said, "it was estimated that from 1565 to 1820, the silver dollars streaming into Manila from Mexico were worth 400,000,000 pesos; most of them were transferred into China.

"The silver dollars flowing in large quantities into China had changed the unfavorable balance into one favorable one for China's foreign trade, bringing about the primitive accumulation of capital in China and sowing the seeds of capitalism," Chen said.

Another article by Liu Cigui for the China Institute for International Studies said, "The ancient maritime Silk Road was developed under political and economic backgrounds and was the result of cooperative efforts from the ancestors of both the East and West. China's proposal to build a 21st century Maritime Silk Road is aimed at exploring the unique values and concepts of the ancient road, enriching it with new meaning for the present era and actively developing economic partnerships with countries situated along the route."

With economic integration comes cultural exchanges and assimilation.

We can just imagine how it would be. Last Monday, we visited Leafun Culture Science and Technology. They have developed a technology that one can watch 3D movies without the glasses that are provided moviegoers these days. They have brought the technology of hologram into a level of amazement.

One Belt-One Road lifts the limits to possibilities.

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