Beijing official hopeful ‘strong will’ to move other joint projects forward
China has expressed its willingness to resume discussions with the Philippines on “cooperation” in the West Philippine Sea, in particular the talks on oil and gas exploration that were earlier canceled by the Duterte administration.
Visiting Minister Liu Jianchao of the International Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC) said this as he met with Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo, House Speaker and Lakas-CMD president Martin Romualdez, and Senate Minority Leader and PDP-Laban chairman Koko Pimentel.
Liu, a former Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, hopes Manila will proceed with projects with Beijing after consensus has been reached, saying a “strong will” is needed to carry on what has been discussed.
He also expressed hope the Philippines will proceed with China-funded railway projects so that Filipinos “will have access to the convenience of railway transportation as soon as possible.”
“I hope that the two sides will have a serious, pragmatic, and reasonable discussions and consultations on these projects so once agreed upon, once consensus is reached, the projects will be carried forward,” he said.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier ordered the Department of Transportation to renegotiate the loan agreements for three railway projects, namely the Philippine National Railways Bicol project, Subic-Clark Railway Project, and the first phase of the Mindanao Railway Project.
The DOTr said the Chinese bank that will finance the projects was asking for a 3-percent interest on the loans, much higher than the 0.01-percent rate charged by Japan.
As for the oil and gas exploration talks, Liu said maritime disputes should not overshadow the bilateral ties between the two Asian neighbors.
“It seems there are legal barriers or factors standing in the way, but I hope that both sides will move about these issues in a way that is feasible, in a way that is practical, so that cooperation could be realized,” Liu said.
“I hope that the discussions will continue. I hope both sides will demonstrate some kind of flexibility… without prejudicing each other’s claims, of their own positions,” he added.
The memorandum of understanding on cooperation signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his state visit to the Philippines in November 2018 was the basis for both parties to “negotiate on an accelerated basis arrangement to facilitate oil and gas exploration and exploitation.”
However, in June, then President Rodrigo Duterte decided to abandon the joint oil exploration talks amid tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
“The President [Rodrigo Duterte] has spoken. I carried out his instructions to the letter. Oil and gas discussions are terminated completely… Three years on and we have not achieved our objective —developing oil and gas resources so critical for the Philippines, but not at the price of sovereignty. Not even a particle of it,” then-Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said.
Locsin said he “got as far as it is Constitutionally possible to go” in hammering out a deal with his Chinese counterpart as he likened the task of holding foreign intruders accountable to drawing “a blood-red line in the WPS.”
Meanwhile, Liu said the Communist Party of China (CPC) is looking at enhancing relations with political parties in the Philippines.
“We are open, and we are very positive to promote and strengthen the interactions between the Communist Party of China and [political parties in the Philippines] and even with new parties, we would like to establish ties,” he said.
Liu met with Romualdez and other Lakas members on Saturday while he held a dialogue with Pimentel on Sunday.
The CPC established a connection with the PDP-Laban as early as 2017 after Pimentel attended the World Dialogue of Political Parties in Beijing.