MANILA (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has downplayed the controversial remarks Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian made about migrant Filipino workers in Taiwan.
Huang drew criticism last Friday when he said at a Manila public forum that the Philippines should “unequivocally oppose Taiwan independence rather than stoking the fire by offering the United States access to military bases near the Taiwan Strait, if you care genuinely about the 150,000 overseas Filipino workers”.
Asked for comment by reporters, Marcos on Wednesday (April 19) said he was a “little surprised” by the Chinese envoy’s speech, but believed the backlash over it may have been due to language differences.
“I think there must have been an element of it being lost in translation. English is not his first language. But I’m very interested to know what it is that he meant,” Marcos said on the sidelines of a groundbreaking event for a hospital in Bulacan, north of the capital Manila.
The President said he interpreted Huang’s remarks as telling the Philippines not to provoke tensions in the region, as that would badly impact the 158,000 migrant Filipino workers in Taiwan.
During last Friday’s forum, Huang was commenting on the Philippines’ decision to give the United States wider access to Filipino military bases under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (Edca).
Three of the four new Edca sites are military facilities located in the northern provinces of Isabela and Cagayan, which are only hundreds of kilometres from Taiwan.
Marcos said he planned to talk with Huang soon to clarify the matter.
This meeting between Marcos and Huang will come roughly two months after the Philippine President summoned the Chinese ambassador to his office in February after a Chinese Coast Guard ship aimed a military-grade laser at a Philippine Coast Guard vessel.
Some government officials and opposition figures have condemned Huang over what they described as his thinly veiled threat against Filipino migrant workers.
The Chinese Embassy in the Philippines tweeted on Monday that Huang was “misquoted”, but did not further elaborate. The embassy also shared a Google Doc link containing a copy of the envoy’s speech, the same file they earlier sent to the media.
“Unfortunately, some misquoted or misinterpreted ambassador Huang’s remarks, or simply took part of the ambassador’s words out of context,” the Chinese Embassy said.
On Tuesday, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs announced that Chinese State Councillor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang will be in Manila from Friday to Sunday on the invitation of Philippine Foreign Secretary Enrique Manalo.
This is the first official meeting between the two diplomats since Qin was appointed foreign minister and state councillor in December.
They are expected to discuss how to implement agreements made between the two countries when Marcos met Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit to Beijing in January.
Qin and Manalo will also tackle the outcome of the bilateral talks on the South China Sea held in March, when Manila told Beijing it must not resort to “coercion and intimidation” in addressing their maritime dispute.
China has already expressed its displeasure over the Philippines’ recent moves to bolster its security ties with the US.
Despite ongoing tensions, Marcos is still working to foster economic ties with China, which remains the Philippines’ largest trading partner. The two countries are also looking into possibly reviving talks on a potential joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.