There’s a bit of good news coming from the land of the rising sun, and just in time for our President’s forthcoming state visit there.
Masahiko Shibayama, a close adviser of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in Singapore last week that “doubling the number of foreign workers cannot be avoided in this global market situation.”
“We have to make a sustainable system for accepting more foreign workers”—this is seen as a solution to the demographic woes in Japan’s ageing society with a low birth rate.
Discussions are ongoing in Japan’s official circles, including the Diet, about bringing in technology industry workers from India and Vietnam, as well as the creation of a new visa category for tourism workers. Japan has been experiencing a visitor boom, which is expected to continue in the coming years.
This is certainly good news for Filipinos who wish to work in a country closer to home. Filipino IT professionals are as good as their Indian counterparts, and certainly, we can well apply for tourism-related jobs.
The only hitch is learning to speak their language, but then Filipinos have time and again shown how easy it is for them to learn foreign languages—which cannot be said of their Indo-Chinese competitors —and how easy it is for us to adapt to foreign cultures.
In Taiwan, meanwhile, the new government of President Tsai Ing Wen has announced a five-percent increase in the minimum wage effective January 1 next year. I met with the Minister of Labor in Taipei last Thursday and he confirmed this news.
This is a happy development for the 130,000 Filipinos who currently reside and work in this First World island economy which has become a leader in high-tech manufacturing. Most overseas Filipino workers in Taiwan work in the island’s factories mostly centered in Taipei, the capital in the north, Taichung in the center and Kaohsiung to its south. Our OFWs in Taiwan enjoy better pay and benefits than in other countries, and are highly regarded by their employers because of their skills, dexterity and bilingualism.
Taiwan, which is our sixth-largest trading partner, is expanding its foreign investment horizons to south of the island, underscored by the new president’s “Southbound Policy” which covers the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, and India, among others. It has thus become a challenge for our country to get a big slice of the Taiwanese private sector direct investments.
In a future article, we shall write about our government’s efforts at trying to get Taiwanese business to invest more in the country, as well as cooperative efforts to advance our friendly ties as next door neighbors.
Speaking of good news, some big things are soon to be announced from the Chinese front. Apparently warmed by President Duterte’s friendlier and forward-looking approach to the West Philippine Sea issue that has soured our bilateral relationship, the government of the People’s Republic of China has agreed in principle to assist in major infrastructure projects that the country badly needs.
Once the President’s visit to China materializes, and we have learned it will be soon, agreements and MOUs will be signed on major projects that will ease traffic and solve some of our major transportation problems.
Recently, on a trip from Hong Kong to Macau and back, I was able to see what would be the longest bridge in the world built over the sea, in the Pear River estuary, that extends from Hong Kong’s three main islands (Hong Kong, Kowloon and Lantau), past its massive Chep Lap Kok airport complex, and into Macau—a 55-kilometer long span. It takes almost two hours to reach Macau from Hong Kong, or vice-versa. With the bridge cum underwater tunnel, that should be cut to some 40 minutes by car on regular speed.
It is an engineering marvel, with almost half of the connector submerged more than 50 meters deep into the ocean bed, via a tunnel that was principally intended to save the existing reef and marine life from being disturbed. Wow! An additional 5 billion dollars, I am told, just to preserve the marine environment.
The Philippines may not get as huge a project, which is akin to connecting Bohol island to Cebu and then to Negros, but it certainly will get a mind-boggling sum by local standards in infrastructure and other economic assistance from our giant neighbor.
The problem that we can foresee is the absorptive capacity of our bureaucracy to implement the projects quickly enough, which is one other reason why we must give our President those emergency powers soon to fast-track solutions to our infrastructure and transport mess.
Yes, Manila and yes, Philippines. Other than the unrelenting efforts to secure the peace and fight drugs and criminality, things are moving quietly, but surely, on the economic front.
Rodrigo Duterte may not be an economist, and does not pretend to have grandiose visions of a “First-world” economy as others before him touted as possible shortly. Still, his political will, his nationalism, and his courageous persona are getting noticed by unbiased neighbors to our north and to our west, and soon even to our south, and they look forward to a peaceful Philippines where their investments will be protected from official indecision and changing rules, and where their people, coming in as investors or tourists, will be secure and safe.