An ornate, P28-million (S$833,809) arch courtesy of Chinese donors was inaugurated in Manila on Tuesday afternoon to mark the city's 444th founding anniversary, in an occasion that saw calls for a peaceful resolution to maritime and diplomatic tensions between the Philippines and China.
Gracing the rites, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said the new gate to Manila's Chinatown "will be a new milestone in developing Filipino-Chinese relationships in the future."
Zhao used the occasion to promote Beijing's vision of building a "21st Century Maritime Silk Road.''
He said this "maritime highway''-first broached by Chinese President Xi Jinping in a 2013 speech in Indonesia-was "aimed at opening up regional connectivity and cooperation with other countries at a high level. The Philippines, of course, is included here."
Zhao also highlighted the celebration this year of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic ties between China and the Philippines, as well as the 25 sister city partnerships between local governments in both countries.
In his response, Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada thanked China and hailed the arch as a symbol of its enduring ties with the country. But speaking to reporters later, he brought up the territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.
"We should continue diplomatic ties with them. After all, China is almost always going for trade. We will learn from them as far as economy and business is concerned," Estrada told reporters. "As far as I'm concerned, we should settle the issue amicably.''
"Let's be honest with ourselves; we can't fight China," he added.
According to Manila Councilor Bernardito Ang, the new arch located at the foot of Jones Bridge is the biggest in any Chinatown worldwide.
Measuring 63.8 feet high and 74 feet wide, the structure is about 4 feet taller than the welcome arch in the Chinatown area of Washington DC.
The arch was built through a US$650,000 (S$833,809) grant from China Energy Fund, a nongovernment think tank focusing on energy research and public diplomacy.