Breaking the Surface

Ezra Acayan / ZUMA press

Filipinos protest outside the Chinese embassy's consular office in Manila against what they feel are maritime violations by Beijing.

When Corazon Aquino made her first state visit to China in 1988 after heroically riding People Power to the Philippine presidency, her chief purpose was to enhance trade and diplomacy with an emerging giant. But Aquino also made a personal connection with China: she journeyed to the village of Hongjian in coastal Fujian province, from where her great-grandfather had migrated to the Philippines. Aquino saw relatives she had never met, offered incense in a temple and planted a tree — building goodwill that her hosts never forgot. In 2009, when Aquino, long retired from public life, died, China's then...

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