China envoy insists no hidden agenda in deals with PH
MANILA, Philippines — China has once again denied any hidden agenda in loan agreements with the Philippines, adding that the accusation of the so-called China debt trap was “completely groundless.”
“One thing I would like to emphasize here is that China has no hidden agenda or strings attached to the cooperation and support for the Philippines,” Charge d’Affaires Ad Interim Tan Qingsheng said on Tuesday at the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) Manila Conference in Taguig.
“The so-called ‘China debt trap’ accusation is completely groundless,” he added.
Tan cited figures from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) showing that Chinese loans account “for merely 0.65 percent of the total debt” of the Philippines.
“Even if the planned financing is implemented, the figure will only be around 4.5 percent by 2022. If we compare the interest rates in US dollar terms, the interest rate of Chinese loans is actually very similar or even lower than that of other countries,” he added.
His statement came following recent criticisms on the controversial $62-million Chico River Pump Irrigation Loan Agreement and $248 million New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam loan deal.
Neri Colmenares, Bayan Muna chairman, had earlier said that the Kaliwa Dam deal had “onerous conditions” that would be “detrimental to the Filipino people.”
Meanwhile, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio pointed out that the Chico River Pump Irrigation project could potentially allow China to take the gas-rich Reed Bank (Recto Bank) in the West Philippine Sea if the Philippines should fail to pay the $62-million loan.
The Philippine government has defended the terms of the loan agreements it signed with China.
Besides the Kaliwa Dam deal and the Chico River Pump Irrigation project, Tan said other major infrastructure projects funded by China also include two drug-rehab centers in Mindanao, which had been completed and turned over to the Philippines ahead of schedule; 13 schools in Davao City; two bridges over the Pasig River in Manila; and the Philippine National Railway’s South Long Haul, among others.
‘Golden age’ of PH-China ties
Meanwhile, the Chinese envoy said that the relations between the Philippines and China “have entered a golden age with political and security coordination, economic cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges.”
He pointed out that the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Manila last November 2018 had “elevated our relationship into one that is of comprehensive strategic cooperation.”
“The two leaders witnessed the exchange of 29 documents covering functional cooperation in various fields, including the MOU [memorandum of understanding] on Belt and Road initiative cooperation,” he added.
Tan also mentioned that the development of the bilateral relations between the two countries “has brought tangible benefits” to both its people.
“Bilateral trade volume in 2018 reached US$55.7 billion, with an 8.5 percent year-on-year increase,” he said.
“China is now the Philippines’ top trading partner, the largest source of imports and the fourth largest export market,” he added.
Tan further said that “people-to-people exchanges have been continuously thriving” between the two countries.
He noted that in 2018, 1.2 million Chinese tourists visited the Philippines, which he said is a 29.6 percent yearly increase.
“China is now the second largest tourist origin of the Philippines. Every week nowadays, more than 300 flights are shuttling between the cities of our two countries,” Tan said.
“We are expecting more than 1.5 million Chinese tourists to the Philippines this year, which will create more than 32 billion pesos of revenue for the local economy,” he added.
The Chinese envoy also said that more job opportunities for Filipinos will be created through the economic cooperation between the Philippines and China.
“China-Philippines economic cooperation will definitely create more job opportunities for Filipinos. It’s more cost effective for Chinese companies to hire local workers than Chinese workers,” he said.
“According to latest statistics, about 50 large-scale Chinese companies based in the Philippines have employed more than 16 thousand Filipinos so far, and the number is expected to increase in the coming years,” he added.
More possible agreements
The Boao Forum comes days before President Rodrigo Duterte is set to fly to Beijing and lead a high-level delegation to attend the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation and hold bilateral meetings with Chinese leaders.
“We have every reason to believe that this visit will not only strengthen the synergies between the Belt and Road initiative and the Build, Build, Build program, but also upgrade our bilateral cooperation to a new high,” Tan said.
Earlier, Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Meynardo Montealegre said that the Philippines and China would sign five bilateral agreements during the President’s visit to Beijing from April 25 to 27.
“Well, we are looking at some possible agreements in the areas of education, anti-corruption, official development assistance as well as drug rehabilitation,” Montealegre said in a press briefing in Malacañang on Monday.
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