Weeks after the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling which favored the Philippines over China in the maritime row concerning the West Philippine Sea, Palawan Governor Jose Alvarez and Ningxia Vice Governor Wang Heshan signed a ‘sisterhood agreement’ at the provincial capitol of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region in China, Tuesday, July 26. The agreement formally cements a relationship of “exchanges and cooperation between Palawan and Ningxia…in the field of economy, trade, science and technology, culture, education, sports, health…to promote common prosperity and development”.
According to Provincial Information Officer Atty. Gil Acosta Jr., Governor Alvarez sought clearance from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) before going to China, making sure that despite the maritime dispute, the Philippines and China can still explore other areas of cooperation such as economics and tourism.
“Wala pong kinalaman dito ang issue ng West Philippine Sea,” Acosta clarified, adding that the agreement has been in the works for a year now. One of the main components of the agreement is boosting tourism, wherein the provincial government hopes that such ties will increase Palawan’s chances of being included in the itinerary of Chinese tourists visiting the Philippines. The plan coincides with the current preparations for the opening of the upgraded international airport in Puerto Princesa next year, Acosta said.
In a news article of Philippine Star, Ningxia’s Vice Governor Wang expressed hope that the relationship between the Philippines and China, which roughly runs for about 600 years, would continue “for another 600 years.” He also cited the pronouncements of President Duterte on keeping friendly ties with China and being open to direct talks over the maritime dispute.
Bataraza Mayor Abraham Ibba joined the governor in signing the agreement in China because there are some Muslim communities in Ningxia, Acosta added.
Ningxia is one of the five autonomous regions in China and has an estimated six million ethnic Chinese Muslims-Hui.