Trick or threat
The Philippine and the Chinese governments signed loads of agreements in the past few weeks, all seemingly in favor of the administration of the motor-biking Duterte Harley.
The signings happened without much media fanfare, mind you!
In stark contrast, media feasted on the threat of the European Union to impose trade sanctions on the Philippines.
Europe supposedly issued two threats, trade sanctions and withholding of funding assistance, because it wanted to punish the same administration for its campaign against illegal drugs.
There were similar calls in the United States, particularly in the recent editorial of the respected New York Times, squarely laying the blame on Duterte Harley for what other organizations called “systematic” murders here.
As for China, aside from those business agreements— albeit signed quietly—that country chose to forge agreements with the Bureau of Customs and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, seeking ways to stop the smuggling of illegal drugs.
Basically the two countries wanted to share intelligence on the drug syndicates operating billion-dollar rings in the region.
Question: Which between China and those western countries would gain some strong points among Filipinos in this geopolitical PR war?
Early last month, without much fanfare in both local and foreign media, the Philippines and China completed the so-called 28th JCETC, or the Joint Commission on Economic and Trade Cooperation.
Through the JCETC, the two countries have explored ways to do business since the 1970s.
When in 2012, during the Aquino (Part II) administration, relations between Manila and Beijing soured over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the JCETC went into a temporary coma.
The hiatus of five long years was only broken after the visit of Duterte Harley to China last October.
Business prospects between the two countries started to look up again. In the next two months, for instance, the two sides worked on a number of agreements in trade and investments.
The Philippine side headed by Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez; the Chinese side, by Commerce Minister Zhong Shan.
Zhong actually came to Manila last month to sign the agreement on three priority projects here that the Duterte Harley administration badly wanted to pursue.
To be financed by the Chinese government, the projects were valued at some P170 billion, namely, the China River Pump Irrigation, the New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam, and the south portion of the North-South Railway.
Look at that—some P170 billion in interest-free funds!
On top of those major projects, China will fund the construction of two new bridges in Metro Manila to help ease the monstrous traffic.
To the delight of world boxing champion Sen. Manny Pacquiao, China will also help build a modern sports complex in the country, perhaps to replace the antiquated overcrowded ill-designed Rizal Memorial facilities.
But make no mistake—such “economic assistance” to the Philippines, whether from China or Japan, and even from the United States or the EU, should always be a two-way street, because it should work both ways.
While the Philippines needed the foreign funds to build the infrastructure to help its economy grow, the same projects would have to buy technology and equipment and all that from the lending countries.
The trick in the renewed interest of China in Philippine business nevertheless will be in tourism and in trade.
For instance, from 500,000 a year in Chinese visitors to the Philippines, the Chinese government had committed to bring it up to at least a million by end 2017.
Official figures from Neda showed that, starting this year, the number of applications in China for travel to the Philippines went up by more than 250 percent to more than 100,000 applications a month.
By the way, you need not wonder why this seven-year-old company called Double Dragon Properties—a joint venture between the Sia group of “Mang Inasal,” and the Tan and Ang families—already started to build a P7-billion brand new hotel.
From what I gathered, such optimism in the business sector already poured out to agribusiness—what with the visit last month of China’s Vice Premier Wang Yang, who went to Duterte Harley’s home town Davao City to sign another batch of agreements.
Among them was the commitment of China to buy all sorts of fruits from the Philippines worth $1 billion a year.
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