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Chinese envoy warns PH stands to lose more if travel ban, trade restriction stay as COVID-19 precautions

By: - Reporter / @bendeveraINQ
/ 05:16 PM February 17, 2020

The Philippines was likely to lose more than it could gain if it blocks trade of goods and closes its borders to visitors from mainland China for an extended period to protect against the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said on Monday (Feb. 17).

Huang told members of the Association for Philippines-China Understanding (APCU) that while China’s manufacturing, services and trade sectors were taking a hit from the lockdown of Wuhan City and Hubei province to contain COVID-19, “the fundamentals of China’s long-term economic development remain unchanged.”

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For Huang, COVID-19’s impact on China’s economy would be “episodic and temporary,” noting that China’s gross domestic product (GDP) was already 10 times bigger compared to 2003 when the country grappled with the SARS outbreak.

“The Chinese economy is much more resilient,” Huang said, adding that 1.7 trillion yuan or about P12.3 trillion had been injected into the banking system to cushion the economic impact of COVID-19.

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In comparison, the Philippine’s total GDP stood at about P18 trillion last year.

While Huang said he was confident that China’s domestic economy would survive the outbreak, he stressed that the world economy needed China to grow, too. He cited as example the 160 million Chinese tourists that travel each year and fuel global tourism.

In the case of the Philippines, Huang said the travel ban covering inbound travellers from China, Hong Kong and Macau as well as outbound trips by Filipinos “will have a negative impact on the Philippine economy.”

For one, Huang said the progress of some China-funded projects were already being hurt as Chinese engineers, who spent Lunar New Year back home, had been unable to return to the Philippines after the outbreak happened.

The travel ban was also a “big blow to tourism in the Philippines,” Huang said, citing estimates that Chinese tourists contributed 2.2 percent of Philippine GDP.

He also cited the Department of Tourism’s (DOT) projection that Philippine tourism was likely to lose P42.9 billion during peak travel season between February to April without Chinese tourists coming here.

China had been the Philippines’ second biggest source of foreign tourists, next only to South Korea.

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Huang said it also didn’t help that there had been a proposal to impose restrictions on the entry of products imported from China. He said the 14-day quarantine was “unnecessary” as COVID-19 could not be spread by mere shipments of merchandise goods.

Because China was the Philippines’ top source of imports and third-largest export market in 2019, Huang said slowing down on trade would have a “disastrous” impact on the Philippine economy.

For instance, the Philippines’ exports of banana and other tropical fruits were already being hurt, Huang said, as Chinese importers retaliate against the Philippine ban.

Also, Huang said thousands of domestic workers have been losing working opportunities in Hong Kong and Macau as a result of the travel ban to these special administrative regions.

“We hope that the Philippines could fight against the epidemic in a calm way while taking measures to avoid interruption of the people-to-people exchanges and trade cooperation between the two nations,” Huang said.

Asked if China would lobby to lift the travel ban being imposed against Hong Kong, Macau and, eventually the mainland, Huang replied: “We hope to see scientific and calm response, and scientific measures to be taken to prevent and control the spread of the virus here. We hope there will be a reassessment of the situation so that unnecessary measures will be lifted.”

Huang, however, said Chinese authorities “respect the decision of the government of the Philippines—I understand its concern to safeguard the health and safety of its people.”

“We also care for the health of the people of the Philippines,” he added.

Edited by TSB

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