PH envoy: Key to China relations is pragmatism, not confrontation

Ivy Jean Vibar, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 31 2017 08:32 PM | Updated as of Mar 31 2017 10:09 PM

Philippine Ambassador to China, Jose Santiago “Chito” L. Sta. Romana, presents his Letter of Credence to Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 17, 2017 at the Great Hall of the People. Handout, DFA

MANILA – The best way to get China's nod on contentious issues is to divide them into "components," according to the Philippines' envoy to China. 
Philippines has gained progress in certain areas such as the issue of fishing rights in Scarborough Shoal, said Ambassador to China Jose “Chito” Sta. Romana. 

“If we are not able to solve it (issue) right away, the key is to manage it so that it does not evolve into a crisis—the same with the tribunal award. The Chinese are not ready to accept it, but I think if we divide it into components, it is possible to achieve progress in certain areas,” he said in an interview on the ABS-CBN News Channel.

The Philippines will also have the opportunity to bring up sensitive issues, including those related to the two countries’ maritime dispute in the South China Sea, during the bilateral talks in May.

After the meeting in May, further talks might be held once or “possibly twice” a year. This will allow the Philippines a platform where it can exchange ideas with China, and when it comes to disputes, to “try to understand where the source of the problem is.”

In January, the Philippines and China agreed to resume foreign ministry consultations after a hiatus that lasted for almost 5 years, Sta. Romana said. This May will mark the setting up of a bilateral mechanism for Philippine-China relations, which will allow the two countries to avoid any miscalculations or possible disruption in relations.

“The prospects certainly are bright, as long as we maintain our independent foreign policy and as long as we continue…with the dialogue with the Chinese leadership…The key is that our policy must be based not on confrontation, nor on appeasement, but rather based on principle and pragmatism,” Sta. Romana said.

Sta. Romana met Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 17, in a ceremony where he presented his letters of credential to the leader.

Sta. Romana first went to China in 1971 as head of a Philippine youth delegation. He was forced to stay there after martial law was declared in 1972. He studied Mandarin and initially worked as a translator for a publishing house. 

Sta. Romana ended up working in China as a journalist. He served as Beijing bureau chief of the American television network, ABC News, from 1989 until his retirement in 2010.