Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo meets Filipinos living in Chengdu, Sichuan province at a Philippine-invested shopping center in Chengdu on June 6, 2007. (SHAO XING/FOR CHINA DAILY)
Former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo first visited China in 1975
Former Philippine president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has a sentimental attachment to China, and as a frequent visitor to the country since her first trip in 1975, she has witnessed epochal changes in the past 40 years.
Arroyo first visited China when she was co-chairperson of the Association for Philippines-China Understanding, a people-to-people organization that played a significant role in the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Philippines and the People's Republic of China in 1975.
She returned to China in 1976 with her father, Diosdado Pangan Macapagal, who served as Philippine president from 1961 to 1965, and other family members.
She later traveled frequently between the two countries, either in her role as president of the Philippines between 2001 and 2010, or later on as a congresswoman and most recently as the newly elected speaker of the House of Representatives.
Arroyo has a special connection to China through her husband, Jose Miguel Arroyo, whose ancestors came from Fujian province in southeastern China. She told a World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention in Manila in 2009 that she was proud her husband and children had Chinese blood.
In an exclusive interview with China Daily during her latest visit, early this month, Arroyo said she had witnessed 40 years of "breathtaking" changes in China thanks to the reform and opening-up policy the country adopted in 1978.
The 71-year-old recalled traveling with her family to several places in the 1970s that "continue to be very important in China", such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Dazhai, a village in northern China that was set up as a model for agricultural production during the 1960s and 1970s.
"At that time, the people all wore Mao suits and rode on bicycles," she said. "My impression at that time, even before 1978, was that life was very simple in China."