A Product Labeled ‘Manila, Province of China’ Has Stirred Discussions About Duterte’s Cozy Relationship With China

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's administration shrugged off the issue, saying it’s “nonsense.”
August 21, 2020, 1:34pm
philippines duterte china xi
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before their meeting at the Great Hall of People in Beijing on April 25, 2019.
Photo: Kenzaburo FUKUHARA / POOL / AFP

A beauty product labeled as made in “Manila, Province of China” provoked anger amongst Filipinos when photos of it began circulating online.  

The product, sold at an outlet in Manila’s Chinatown district, listed “Manila Province, People’s Republic of China” as its manufacturing address, prompting angry reactions from Filipinos and local officials.

On Thursday, August 20, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno shuttered the establishment selling the keratin hair treatments and called for the deportation of two Chinese nationals involved in the business.

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“I am not a governor of China, I am the mayor of Manila, Philippines,” he said. “That is the address of Manila. Manila is in the Philippines, and the Philippines is free. We are a sovereign nation,” Moreno said in a Facebook Live broadcast.

The mayor asked the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation to file appropriate charges against the Chinese nationals he identified as Shi Zhong Xing and Shi Li Li. He also asked the immigration bureau to conduct deportation proceedings against the two men, claiming that they exhibited “disrespect” to the Philippines with their stunt.

“Their utter disrespect to the country as shown by these violations should not be countenanced. We cannot let these foreign nationals insult our nation and our people,” he wrote in a letter addressed to immigration officials.

A lawmaker who earlier posted photos of the beauty products on social media called on the trade department to ban the Chinese products.

But the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte shrugged off the issue, saying it’s “nonsense.”

“We should not pay attention to that because no one believes that we are a province of China,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press briefing on August 20. “We are proud to be Filipinos and we will never allow ourselves to be subjugated by any foreign body.”

The labeling controversy is the latest in a string of stunts that tagged the Philippines as a part of China. In May, the geotag “Philippines, Province of China” appeared on Facebook and Instagram, eliciting anger from Filipinos.

In 2018, red banners that declared “Philippines, Province of China” sprung up across the Philippine capital, infuriating many. 

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Duterte, who has been accused by some of being a China loyalist, is fond of making pro-Beijing public comments.

In front of Filipino and Chinese businessmen and the Chinese ambassador, the Philippine president once joked about making the Philippines a province of China.

Duterte’s stance on China does not sit well with political opposition members as well as the majority of Filipinos. A recent survey showed that 70 percent of Filipinos agree that the country must assert its claim over parts of the disputed South China Sea, as public trust in China remains low.

Observers say Duterte’s submissive attitude toward China and its leader Xi Jinping encourages these kinds of remarks.

“Duterte has not helped the situation by, what my colleagues in the region have called, making ‘slavish’ comments toward China,” Manila-based academic Richard Heydarian told VICE News. “There’s an idea that we have to be ‘meek and humble’ in exchange for China’s mercy.”

Duterte, as a leader of a sovereign nation, failed to raise the Philippines’ sense of dignity and respect on the international stage, he said. 

“Duterte’s strategic acquiesce to China, most prominent in his unabashed China-leaning rhetoric, only reinforces this contempt and absolute lack of respect for the Philippines as a sovereign nation,” he added.

In his state of the nation address this year, Duterte admitted he is “inutile” on the issue of China’s expansionism in the South China Sea.

“China is claiming it. We are claiming it. China has the arms, we do not. It’s simple as that…China is in possession. So what can we do?” Duterte said.

“We have to go to war and I cannot afford it. Maybe some other president can but I cannot. I’m useless, I tell you, and I’m willing to admit it. I cannot do anything,” he added.