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A perceptions game

recent survey showed there is no ingrained feeling of mistrust among Filipinos, particularly on China, which has posed worries in the region as a result of its massive reclamation and facilities buildup on the contested South China Sea.
A recent Social Weather Stations survey showed that respondents were even in their views on China which was a radical shift from the largely dismal view on the country’s neighbor a little more than two years ago under the strongly pro-United States Noynoy.
The improvement in Filipinos’ perception of China was in large part, contributed by the independent foreign policy that President Duterte introduced, which basically fixed a level field in relations with other countries that meant stronger ties with US rivals China and Russia.
Rody also showed that the policy he espoused meant closer relations with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
The SWS survey showed respondents have expressed much trust in the United States, Canada and Japan while showing a neutral stance toward China.
Its improving image should be China’s cue to further build up trust with Filipinos mainly in ramping up its assistance to help develop the economy.
The main difference in the Asian and Western ways in dealing with countries in this part of the globe is that Asians see common development as benefiting all in contrast to the still strongly colonial treatment of the West in imposing its rules and values on Asian nations.
The Chinese buildup in the contested maritime areas, for instance, is largely a pushback against the Americans which had launched a so-called pivot to Asia during the late part of former President Barack Obama’s term.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who has extensively dealt with the South China Sea conflict, said the Philippines wanted to trust China but it would be up “to the Chinese people” to win the Filipinos’ trust while Duterte is expanding friendly ties with China.
The survey revealed that US got the highest +68 net trust rating followed by Canada with +55 percent and Japan at +54.
China, meanwhile, was among the four countries with “neutral” net trust rating at +7.
Others were Myanmar at +8, Cambodia at +7, and Laos at +3.
“We want to trust China but China must also prove herself to be trustworthy,” Roque said.
Improved friendly ties are already showing its benefits as China promised to infuse more investments while Chinese tourists are increasing.
Last year, Chinese tourist arrivals increased by nearly 40 percent or 810,807 tourists more from China compared to 2016.
“If they will fulfill the promises, if we will not have a conflict, if they will not reclaim and build new artificial islands, the Filipinos prefer to become friends instead of enemies,” Roque put it simply.
Roque said the highest trust rating that Filipinos gave to US and Japan was expected because “of our long and established relationship” with these countries.
The equation thus points to Filipinos leaning more on the Americans and Japanese to come in the aid of the nation in times of difficulties instead of the Chinese.
The view, however, is fast shaping differently now that more Filipinos are seeing Rody engaging China as a friend or even a brother in which even difficult differences do not result in broken relations.
A bilateral consultative mechanism has been set up between China and the Philippines that is a form of a hotline between leaders of both countries to settle differences which is another way forward in improving relations between both nations.
Being next-door neighbors, getting along well is even a necessity between the Philippines and China.

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