Understanding China

PRESIDENT Macapagal-Arroyo visited China at least eight times during the last seven years: on Oct. 29, 2001, Sept. 1-3, 2004, Oct. 27-Nov. 2, 2006, April 21, 2006, June 5-6, 2007, Oct. 1-2, 2007, Aug. 7-10, 2008 and Oct. 23-27, 2008. She took six of them during the last two years (2006 to 2008). In contrast, her predecessors went to China only once during their respective incumbencies: Ferdinand Marcos on June 7, 1975; Corazon Aquino on April 14, 1988; Fidel Ramos on April 25, 1993; and Joseph Estrada on May 16, 2000. Marcos reestablished diplomatic relations with our giant Asian neighbor in 1975.

Phenomenal economic boom. GMA may have her reasons for her frequent traipsing. Among those reasons must be the growing importance of China to our country and the rest of the world. After all, in 2007, the Philippines exported ($23.1 billion) more than it imported ($7.5 billion) from China. To the world however, China exported ($1.22 trillion) more than it imported ($955.8 billion), making it the world’s best performing economy.

China’s growth will slow down this year to about 9 percent and to an estimated 8 percent next year due to the global financial meltdown. This may result in job losses and other dislocations. But unlike the other economic superpowers (United States, Europe and Japan), it will not suffer recession or negative growth. To minimize the slowdown, China is spending $586 billion to stimulate economic activities and generate jobs by building new infrastructures, homes, schools and hospitals.

Last month, my wife Leni and I visited some major Chinese cities. The Olympic games were over when we arrived. But they were the catalyst in transforming Beijing into a bustling space age metropolis. The Olympic opening on Aug. 8, 2008 was the deadline in building some of the newest wonders of the world, like the colossal National Stadium, popularly known as the “Bird’s Nest”; the iconic National Theater locally known as the “Egg” (it looks like a humongous egg half-buried in the ground); and the avant-garde “Water Cube” Aquatic Center that was home to the Olympic swimming events.

Ying and yang. These behemoths are equipped with the latest cyber age technology. Nonetheless, they were designed with traditional Chinese ying and yang, water and fire. The square-shaped Water Cube denotes earth, its blue tint feminity; while its roundish, red neighbor, the Bird’s Nest, symbolizes heaven and masculinity. They are the modern equals of the eye-popping Great Wall, the majestic Forbidden City, and the beautiful Summer Palace.

We were dazzled by the huge, ultra-modern Capital airport, several seven-star hotels and buildings, spanking new shopping malls and exotic restaurants offering haute cuisine from Ethiopia to Brazil. Perhaps the most eye-catching new structure in Beijing is the China Central Television (CCTV) building consisting of two cantilevered towers amazingly connected in a gravity-defying 190-meter drop.

Equally awesome are the skyscrapers of Shanghai, said to outnumber those in New York. Among them are the World Financial Center (the second tallest building in the world), the Jin Mao Tower and the twin towers of the Metrobank branch there.

I used to think that the best Peking duck was roasted in Hong Kong. No longer so, after I tasted the crunchy fat-free duck skin and mouth-melting duck meat at the DaDong Restaurant (in Beijing) especially selected by our travel mates Larry and Peggie Chan, Basty and Betty Roxas Chua, Tama Ng, Jimmy and Alice Pek, and Ely and Ging Teehankee.

These gourmets brought us to many other specialty restaurants like the Yu Long Jin in Beijing, Louwailou in Hangzhou, Jin Man Lou in Suzhou, Wang Bao He (which served the seasonal Shanghai crabs in 12 delicious entrées) and Din Tai Fung in Shanghai. Not to be forgotten are the sumptuous dinners hosted by my friend, Xiao Yang, who retired last March as chief justice of the Supreme People’s Court of China, and Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Cataumber Brady.

Global super power. Apart from engineering marvels and unequalled economic strides, China has proven its ascendancy in many other fields. In sports, it is the overall Olympic champion. The launching two months ago of the “Shengzhou 5” qualifies China as the third nation on earth, after Russia and the United States, which can orbit its citizens in space. It is the first nation to operate the fastest trains in the world, the Maglev, which zooms up to 501 kilometers per hour. It runs the 30-kilometer distance from the city center to the Shanghai International Airport in seven minutes and 20 seconds.

Politically stable, economically dynamic and technologically advanced, modern China has regained its national greatness. It has healed the scars of humiliation dealt by its foreign conquerors that began with its defeat during the Opium Wars of the mid-19th century. Successive domination of China resulted in unequal treaties that awarded special concessions and extra-territorial rights to its conquerors, depicted in the movie “55 Days in Peking.”

To dramatize its struggle for national honor, China’s parliament—the National People’s Congress—proclaimed in 1961 a “National Humiliation Day.” Since then, foreign criticisms have triggered almost automatic extreme restiveness in the Chinese psyche.

Now, China can truly be proud not only of its 5,000 years of enduring legacies but also of its secure place among the greatest global powers of the 21st century.

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