READ: Philippines rolls out red carpet for China leader
In a press statement, President Rodrigo Duterte said he was pleased with the “positive momentum” of Philippines-China relations,” and said his administration has worked hard for the continuous advancement of the country’s beneficial cooperation in a wide range of areas with Beijing over the last two years.
“A lot of work remains, but President Xi’s visit gives us new impetus to our mutual efforts to enhance collaboration in ensuring the well-being of our peoples and contributing to peace and stability in the region,” said Duterte.
“There is a deepening trust and confidence [between] our governments, and we have greatly increased dialogue and interaction on many levels,” he added.
The President also said he discussed with Xi how to further “enhance functional cooperation in key work areas, such as bilateral trade and two-way investments promotion.”
Duterte said they tackled infrastructure development, particularly China’s participation in his administration’s Build, Build, Build program.
“We discussed our cooperation on the reconstruction and rehabilitation of Marawi and the Philippines’ participation in China’s Belt and Road Initiative,” said Duterte.
“We also discussed mutual concerns on defense, security, maritime cooperation, law enforcement, transnational crime, as well as strengthening our partnership in combatting the trafficking of illegal drugs,” he added, emphasizing that they also touched matters of cooperation in enhancing two-way tourism, agriculture, education, science and technology, and cultural exchanges.
Duterte then personally conveyed his appreciation to the Chinese official for his “valuable support” for the country’s initiatives in regional and international spheres.
He also extended his gratitude for the “generous assistance” the Beijing has been giving during calamities, such as the recent Typhoon “Ompong.”
“With mutual respect, sincerity, and adherence to sovereign equality, I will continue to work closely with President Xi to deepen the relationship between our great countries, so we may together secure a peaceful and prosperous future for both our peoples and for the entire region,” he added.
Among the agreements signed was the memorandum of understanding on cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative.
Xi, in his press statement, personally invited Duterte to attend the 2nd Belt and Road Forum in China in April 2019.
“Both sides have the view that as fellow developing countries in Asia, China and the Philippines face similar developmental challenges which make us natural partners with a common destiny. The two sides will seek greater complementarity between China’s Belt and Road initiative and the Philippines development strategy and make our cooperation more comprehensive and balanced,” he said.
Also signed was the memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation on oil and gas development between the Philippines and China.
Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi said the MOU was crafted to find ways for the country to benefit from the resource-filled waters in the South China Sea. Xi also said that they will continue to manage “contentious issues and promote maritime cooperation through friendly consultation” in the disputed waterways.
The Chinese official added that they will contribute their own share to establish peace, stability and welfare in the resource-filled waters.
“Both sides believe that once in a century shifts are on the way around us, making the world more multi-polar and a global economy more integrated,” he said.
“Faced with the big issues of peace and developments, China and the Philippines must join hands to uphold the interests of the developing world, resist protectionism and unilateralism, and promote peace, stability, and prosperity in our region and beyond,” he added.
China also offered to lend a hand in the Philippines’ counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism programs.
“[China] will [also] implement arrangements for Filipino teachers of the English language to work in China. Also, China will donate 10,000 tons of rice to help those communities devastated by typhoon Ompong,” Xi continued, stressing that both countries will remain committed to their relationship and work hard to make it even stronger.
Xi arrived in the Philippines Tuesday, aiming to boost blossoming ties with potentially billions in backing for mega-projects.
Duterte has proven a willing recipient of Beijing’s attention, declaring shortly after his election in 2016 his nation’s “separation” from former colonial master the US.
Since then Beijing has promised billions of dollars in investment and loans for major infrastructure that the developing nation of 105 million deeply needs, but over two years later nearly none of it has arrived.
Xi landed in Manila to a red-carpet welcome at the airport for the first visit from a Chinese president in 13 years, which Manila hopes will finally net those investment deals.
China has dispersed tens of billions of dollars in loans since 2013 as it expands its political influence globally, countering the American hegemony that characterized the post-World War II order, especially in Asia.
However, even before Xi’s expected arrival, hundreds of protestors descended on the Chinese embassy to voice opposition to closer ties with Beijing.
Sea dispute“Philippines is not for sale,” the marchers chanted, as some brandished signs saying “China out of Philippine waters” in reference to a long-running dispute over the South China Sea.
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Duterte has enthusiastically embraced Xi, even setting aside a key 2016 ruling from an international tribunal that declared as without basis Beijing’s expansive claim over the waterway.
The dispute over the resource-rich South China Sea, a key transit route for billions in trade, led to a freeze in Manila-Beijing relations, which thawed with Duterte’s pivot.
China subsequently pledged $24 billion in loans and investments, but just a tiny portion has come through, prompting critics to say Duterte was tricked.
Meanwhile, others have warned of a “debt trap” citing China’s lending record with the rest of the developing world.
Filipino analyst Richard Heydarian said China’s pledges induced Manila to “soft-pedal” on the South China Sea issue, but Beijing failed to hold up its end of the bargain.
“We know there was a geopolitical calculation,” he said. “What is the incentive to rush if Duterte has been giving them whatever they want?”
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno conceded last week the delays were partly due to China’s unfamiliarity with the Philippine bidding process on big infrastructure projects but didn’t hide his wish for things to accelerate.
‘The visit of the head of state of China will put pressure on the team [in Beijing],” Diokno added.
Gregory Wyatt, director for business intelligence at PSA Philippines Consultancy, said big projects face many barriers in the Philippines, like the right of way issues, regulatory approvals, and political dissent.
“The foreign investment has come, the infrastructure loans have not,” he added.
Chinese investments in the Philippines surged more than fivefold in the first six months of the year after a 67-percent expansion last year, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said during a Manila visit last month.
Two-way trade also topped 10 percent over both periods, he added.
Chinese investors poured money into online gaming, real estate, service providers and stakes in existing Filipino firms, but not into large-scale infrastructure or manufacturing, Wyatt said.
While there was support in government for the latter, “that doesn’t mean that every bureaucrat, local politician, and the general public enthusiastically jumps on board,” Wyatt said.
The Philippines is set to secure financing deals with China for the P18.724-billion New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project.
The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System said on its website that the loan signing for the project is expected to happen in Manila during Xi’s visit.
The proposed project up for financing from China seeks to provide water security, reliability, and additional supply for Metro Manila.
Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno in August said at least 10 loan deals are set to be signed during the visit of Xi, including the North-South Railway-South Line (Long Haul), worth P175.3 billion. The project involves the construction and subsequent maintenance and operation of a 581-kilometer standard-gauge long-haul from Los Baños to Matnog and a branch line from Calamba to Batangas. With AFP
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