Much has been said about China’s bid for soft power in recent years, what with high-budget Hollywood co-productions like The Great Wall and Chinese businesses acquiring American production companies.
And it looks like the Asian superpower is also looking to improve its image in the Philippines — with the help, it turns out, of the Philippine government.
In a launch event yesterday, it was announced that the state-run television network PTV will start airing Chinese shows and movies dubbed in Tagalog under the programming slot titled China TV Theatre.
While it’s soft power they want, their strategy is anything but subtle.
During yesterday’s event, none other than China’s ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said that the initiative was done so Filipinos could “better understand” China.
“A new window is opened to millions of people in the Philippines to better understand China, its people, their long history, their rich culture, their daily lives, their endeavor and their dreams,” he said.
ABS-CBN News reported that Zhao also said the shows could inspire Filipinos towards cooperation “to turn our dreams into realities, steady national economic growth, improved people’s livelihood, and secured regional peace and prosperity.”
Some of the Chinese productions set to air on PTV are the TV drama Feather Flies to the Sky and the 2014 film Beijing Love Story.
During the event, PTV General Manager Dino Apolonio also said that China TV Theatre would promote creativity and imagination in Filipinos.
“China Theatre is contributing immensely in that regard. It serves as a tool for deeper understanding between our two peoples,” Apolonio said.
In April, the Chinese government provided RMB17 million (PHP140.8 million) worth of aid to the Philippines to help improve its state media.
While airing both Western and Asian shows isn’t new in the Philippines — Korean dramas are aplenty and American films are part and parcel of Filipino culture — this partnership with China isn’t like any other content acquisition.
Like other media in China, films and TV shows are regulated by the government. Apart from limiting the number of foreign productions that are shown in the country, local productions are also expected to promote Chinese (read: socialist) values.
The launch of China TV Theatre also comes as Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration warm relations with China despite the ongoing dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
Many have criticized Duterte for his alleged lackadaisical approach to the issue, especially because he has repeatedly expressed support for the Chinese government.
In February, he joked about making the Philippines a province of China during an event with Filipino-Chinese businessmen attended by Ambassador Zhao.
In May, Duterte said he would not go to war with China over the West Philippine Sea because the Philippines wouldn’t stand a chance.
“We cannot afford a war. We cannot win a battle against China and I would only lose maybe thousands of my troops and policemen,” Duterte said.
He also famously said early on in his term as president that he would cut ties with its longtime ally the United States and would “realign” his ideologies with China’s.