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For Filipino-Chinese Merchants Ties Trump Tensions

MANILA - The territorial tensions between the Philippines and China recently have affected trade and boosted nationalistic rhetoric. But, in Manila, residents of one of the world's oldest Chinatowns take a longer view. The vibrant community of Filipino-Chinese merchants has strong connections to both countries.

The Chinese have been doing business in the Philippines for more than 1,000 years, integrating into a well-established Filipino-Chinese community. More than just business, they also produce political and religious leaders, says real estate dealer Wilson Lee Flores.

"In fact the church that you are seeing at the back here, the first Filipino saint was the son of a Chinese immigrant who was a Christian, who was serving in the church," said Lee Flores. "So, we are very much part and parcel of the Philippine life."

Despite the close historic ties, Filipino-Chinese merchants say the tension between the two countries about disputed territory is a concern for business.

"Both sides, we should placate them, try to moderate them," said Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry spokesman George Chua-Cham. "There are always some rowdy people who want to instigate a lot of things. Not only on the side of China, but they're also on the side of Philippines. Because, anywhere you go you cannot avoid that. But, as much as possible, we try to downplay them and let reason be their guide."

Merchants here say the Filipinos and Chinese are like relatives - they may not always get along but are still family.

"I think that if we put the view in balance, that for 1,000 years the relationship has been good, the Chinese have always fought beside the Filipinos, in every war, in every revolution, and that the partnership, even on a personal basis has been very good, then the people will have a lot to look forward to," said cosmetics dealer George Sy.

He points out the Chinese community lived through Spanish and then American rule by staying out of politics and focusing on business.