By Diego C. Cagahastian
KEY Chinese officials are all over the place this month—President Xi Jinping in Da Nang, Vietnam for the Apec Business Summit (Nov. 10-11 ) and state visit to Laos (Nov. 14) and Prime Minister Li Keqiang in Manila for the 31st Asean Summit and East Asia meetings (Nov. 13 to 14) and official visit to the Philippines.
Xi and Li are seriously taking on their roles as peripatetic leaders of the world’s second-biggest economy to give a human face to China’s policy of openness and peace and development for all.
The two top Chinese leaders were out of the country last week selling China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which is based on the idea of reviving the Old Silk Road and infusing Chinese aid to the countries that it would traverse, helping them develop and in return, boosting China’s potential as the future’s No. 1 economic power.
President Xi and Prime Minister Li had just emerged from the highly successful 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China, which set the master plan for the economic and political development of China for the next 5 years and even later.
Xi’s election as general secretary of the Communist Party and the subsequent formation of the seven-man Standing Committee of its Politburo with Li and five others signaled the consolidation of power behind Xi and Li, augur well for China’s continued development and prosperity along the lines of Xi’s socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Most reassuring for the Philippines was Premier Li’s announcement that his country will give a grant of 150-million Renminbi or about P1.15 billion for the rehabilitation of war-town Marawi City.
Government estimates place the cost of rebuilding the city which was recently flattened by the onslaught of religious violence sponsored by the rouge Islamic State at P50 million.
Marawi City Mayor Majul Usman Gandamra said the Chinese grant will go a long way in helping his constituents who lost their homes to rebuild their lives following the man-made tragedy.
He also cited the initial Chinese donation of 47 heavy equipment recently, including 8 excavators, 8 wheel loaders, five compactors, five track-type tractors, five bulldozers, 8 dump trucks, 8 cement mixers and a container van. DPWH Secretary Mark Villar said these items came from China’s Emergency Humanitarian Assistance Program. Even before Li arrived for a visit, DPWH personnel had been using the Chinese equipment for the ground preparations in Marawi.
Li’s trip to Manila cleared a lot of doubts about China’s plans and intentions in Asean and in the Philippines. While the festering problem of the South China Sea still exists, President Xi Jinping and President Duterte have struck an informal modus vivendi on how to handle the situation: To play is down and avoid a flashpoint that could ignite more trouble for the two countries.
And while Xi assured Duterte that the fears of Chinese militarization is “nothing” (to worry about), here now was Li putting ink to paper in 14 agreements, mostly hard and big-ticket projects, that clearly would jump-start Philippine progress and prosperity.
Wherever he goes and whenever he makes a statement, the prime minister reflects the Chinese line of strategic, long-term goals and policies.
He said at the joint press conference with Duterte following their bilateral talks, “My suggestion is that our two sides may sit down together to discuss and formulate cooperation plans in these areas, lasting for the next five or even 10 years to take forward our cooperation in these specific fields, to send out (a) message to people of the two countries as well as the international community that China-Philippines relationship will continuously go forward and the people-to-people friendship between us will be further strengthened.”
The Chinese government’s head noted that both China and Manila are countries with large population so that it is to the benefit of both to develop opportunities some more and to treat each other as big mutual markets.
Always stressing cooperation, Li said, “If we can work together, I believe, it will all bring benefits to the people of both countries and the region as a whole.”
Following these exchanges of gratitude and platitudes, Duterte and Li witnessed the signing of 14 financial, infrastructure, and cultural agreements between the two nations.
These include the Second Basket of key infrastructure projects cooperation between the Department of Finance and the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, exchange of letters on dangerous drugs abuse and treatment and rehabilitation centers, two bridges across Pasig River, industrial parks development, Philippine National Railways south long hall project, agreement on production capacity and investment, agreement on the provision of goods for addressing climate change, defense cooperation, intellectual property, financing agreement on the Chico River pump irrigation project and the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam project, the 2017 Renminbi bond issuance underwriting accord with the Bank of China, and a financial agreement between BCDA and China Development Bank.