MANILA - Centuries-old ties between the Philippines and China were renewed after 3 pre-Hispanic boat replicas carrying 34 Filipino seafarers docked on Xiamen and sailed back to Manila safely, officials here said Tuesday.
The 18-meter balangays that were mostly wind-powered left the Philippines on April 28 and arrived in China on May 3 for a goodwill visit.
The Philippine Balangay Expedition Team sought to retrace the route sailed by Sultan Batara in 1417 when the Muslim leader visited Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty.
“Those great bodies of water unified them and never divided them,” said expedition leader Arturo Valdez.
“When we arrived in Xiamen, the port authorities welcomed us. Current issues are being raised but the people to people contact and friendship will remain strong and in peace,” he said.
The Philippines is one of the 4 Southeast Asian nations that have overlapping claims with China in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway where at least $5 trillion in goods pass through annually.
“This voyage has no pot of gold at the end of the expedition. The voyage is a connection, a renewing of ties,” Valdez said.
A proof of cooperation and good ties between the two countries was seen when the Chinese government agreed to expedite the visa processing of the 34 crew members of the balangays, said Chinese Consul General Luo Gang.
The Xiamen Port also agreed to reduce the balangays’ docking fee to $3,000 from $10,000, officials said.
“Your journey to China not by plane, not by luxury liners but by traditional boats vividly show that we Chinese and Filipinos are 2 peoples that have a long history of friendship,” Luo told the seafarers in a culminating activity held after the docking.
“We will draw inspiration from this expedition to reinforce our friendship for 600 more years,” he said.
Earlier this month, China was accused of installing military-grade rocket launchers in some of the islands under the jurisdiction of the Philippines.
Malacañang had refused to condemn the action, as it opted to verify reports first.
In 2016, the Philippines got an arbitral win from The Hague that invalidated China’s sweeping 9-dash claim in the disputed water.
The government, under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, has refrained from mentioning the arbitral victory as he sought closer ties with China.