BEIJING—President Rodrigo Duterte said Tuesday he wanted Manila to join Beijing’s proposed Belt and Road Initiative to make up for the country’s lack of funding for much-needed infrastructure.
In an interview with the state-owned Xinhua news agency, Duterte said rapid development was hard to accomplish for any country without railways, and hoped China could offer soft loans to build them.
“There are so many things in my country which I would like to implement, but [cannot] for [the] lack of the capital stock,” Duterte said.
“If we can have the things you have given to other countries by the way of assistance, we’d also like to be a part of it and to be a part of the greater plans of China about the whole of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia.”
China’s most ambitious foreign policy initiative, the Belt and Road refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road launched by the Chinese President Xi Jinping to promote economic cooperation among countries along the proposed Belt and Road routes.
The strategy underlines China’s push to take a bigger role in global affairs, and its need for cooperation in areas such as steel and manufacturing.
Finance Secretrary Carlos G. Dominguez had earlier said the government will be facilitating various agreements for railway or power grid projects in the Philippines through institutions such as the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), adding that China may also may roll out measures to boost agricultural imports such as bananas and pineapples from the Philippines.
“The AIIB for us is the number one priority,” Dominguez told reporters.
“We will discuss with them our whole plan and we will match it with theirs. We’re just new, and I don’t know exactly what they want to do. We have to go to them and see what their priorities are also so we can match our priorities with them.”
Duterte will be the first Philippine leader invited to the capital by Chinese President Xi Jinping for one-on-one talks.
Duterte’s 450-strong business delegation will include tycoons San Miguel Corp. President Ramon S. Ang; JG Summit Holdings Inc. president Lance Y. Gokongwei; Enrique K. Razon, Jr., chairman of gaming company Bloomberry Resorts Corp. and global port operator International Container Terminal Services Inc.; Hans T. Sy, son of the Philippines’ richest man, Henry S. Sy Sr. who controls SM Investments Corp.; as well as liquor and tobacco magnate Lucio C. Tan, who also owns Philippine Airlines, Inc.
In his interview with Xinhua, Duterte also said an “outsider” that he did not name tried to meddle in the South China Sea dispute, even though he was determined to pursue bilateral talks with China.
“We are not interested in allowing another country to talk. I just want to talk to China,” he said.
Duterte has expressed doubts about whether the United States would come to the aid of the Philippines in a military showdown, and on the eve of his departure for Beijing said he was looking to buy Chinese weapons for his fight against terrorism.
Massive American access to the Philippines, negotiated by the Pentagon under the previous administration, was considered a mainstay of the Obama administration’s “pivot” to Asia strategy that China has blasted as a containment policy, and that it would like to unravel..
Duterte’s statements came as Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said that the President will not raise the Philippines’ claim in the South China Sea in his meeting with Xi here.
Duterte arrived via a chartered Philippine Airlines flight PR001 for a four-day state visit expected to raise economic cooperation between the two countries.
“The South China Sea issue will not be discussed specifically in our bilateral engagements in resolving the issue. They might talk about it generally but I think the President has made it clear that maybe this is not the time to talk about resolving the South China Sea dispute as we are still continuing to build trust and confidence between the two countries,” Yasay said.
Duterte earlier described his trip to China as “a key turning point in both our histories”– and has not pressed Beijing over the UN tribunal’s ruling in the Philippines’ favor.
In an interview last week with al-Jazeera, Duterte said that during his visit he would fight to maintain the country’s islands in the South China Sea.
“Nobody is going to give up anything there,” he said, adding that under the Constitution, a president cannot give away Philippine ground.
But he added that although he would raise the tribunal’s verdict, he could not be forceful.
Last week he instructed the country’s navy to halt joint patrols of the South China Sea with the US in order to avoid “any Philippine action that China might deem hostile.”
A spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, played down Duterte’s insinuations that he would raise a controversial arbitral ruling on the South China Sea with China’s leaders, saying that they expects the visit to improve ties and enhance cooperation.
“We hope President Duterte’s visit can enhance political trust between the two countries, deepen cooperation and develop our traditional friendship. We hope both sides can handle differences through dialogue and bring our strategic partnership back on track to healthy and stable development,” Hua said Tuesday.
Speaking about the South China Sea issue, Hua said that China’s door for negotiation has always been open to the Philippines, adding that China is willing to work with all parties in the South China Sea to maintain peace and stability.
Hua referenced Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign and moves to uphold an independent foreign policy and said that China believes he can find a development path suitable for his country.
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