Is Duterte the guy to get China’s assistance pouring into the country?
The question is raised because, on the one hand, Duterte does appear dead serious in making a turnaround from the US to China in a host of concerns for building alliances, and, on the other hand, suggestions are rife that for finally pushing Philippine economic development, Duterte must now begin seizing opportunities offered by China for the purpose through the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), as well as cooperative ventures with Chinese business companies… And Duterte, in the course of his apparently intensifying enmity with Obama, has expressed strong inclination toward China.
The Wall Street Journal quotes Duterte as saying, “Only China will help us. America just gave you principles of law and nothing else.”
Undoubtedly, Duterte’s is a sound statement. China is the fountainhead of AIIB, a multilateral development bank founded last year by 57 members, the Philippines being the last signatory, though the Senate has yet to ratify it.
Being then a founding member of AIIB, the Philippines is in a good position to influence its decisions, particularly on the grant of loans. As of June 2016, such loans amounting to $509 million have been granted for power, housing and transport projects of only four countries, namely, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Indonesia and Tarjikistan. The bank has a starting capital of $100 billion, which is two-thirds that of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and half of that of the World Bank. This means that as things stand at AIIB, so much is available for the Philippines to pursue its developmental plans not only for a short period but over the long term as well.
The latest data from the ADB places the financial needs of the Philippines at $127.1 billion for its manifold developmental projects for the decade. AIIB loans can very well fill in funding gaps in projects in infrastructure, transport system, tourism and industry. The rest of the needed financing can be sourced through joint ventures and such other cooperative schemes as Chinese companies have done with countries like Vietnam and Thailand in Asean, and Uganda and Namibia in Africa. In the latter region, China is currently implementing a “one company, one village” program covering 100 villages, with focus on agriculture, particularly improved rice farming and the development of inland fisheries.
Just to give us an idea of how much wonder can Duterte do the Filipinos in cooperating with China, here is the example of Vietnam. In tourism, for the first half of 2016, it recorded 1.2 million Chinese tourist arrivals. Compare this with the Philippine figure of 300,000, the discrepancy is exceedingly big, yet this Philippine performance represents a 100 percent increase from the previous period. This shows that the country has been lacking much effort in this area. And yet, tourism is one industry that has the biggest potential for gain because of its low cost.
How much gain? Take Thailand now for an example. It is currently eyeing 10 million Chinese tourist arrivals this year, up from the 8 million it drew in last year. Those 8 million Chinese tourist arrivals netted $10.3 billion for the Chinese economy. If this were to take place in the Philippines, in tourism alone China can well provide the country with financing needs for its developmental projects for the next decade.
China’s cooperative ventures with Asean countries in all facets of industrialization have resulted in the establishment of industrial parks and special economic zones all over the region, like the Morowali Tsingshan Industrial Park in Indonesia, Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone in Cambodia, Malaysia-China Kuautan Industrial Park, Thai Chinese Rayong Industrial Zone, Tagaung Taung Nickel Mine in Myanmar, and Saysettha Development Zone in Laos.
It is said that a consuming obsession of Duterte is the construction of his dream railway system consisting of a circumferential railway circling Mindanao, joined up with a trans-archipelago railway starting from the tip of Northern Luzon. Not a bad idea for one who got himself cussing Pope Francis for the traffic jam the latter caused during his visit to the Philippines. With China’s assistance, Duterte’s obsession can be a reality. China now boasts the world’s longest HSR (high speed rail) system, which traverses a distance of 20,000 kilometers. Construction of the HSR was undertaken under technology transfer agreements with renowned train makers Alston, Siemens, Bombardier, and Kawasaki Heavy Industries.
From its rich experience in building its HSR, China has gained technological expertise that should make it the best-equipped for undertaking a much-needed railway network that can finally solve the perennial traffic problem in Metro Manila. But of course, that would subject Duterte to so much self-restraint in his habitual “f***k yous.” Bad habits are hard to kill, true. But with such a railway system in place, no more traffic jams will clog the streets, not even when, say, 10 popes come avisiting the Philippines all at the same time. Imagine Duterte’s agony at not being able to blurt out, “Putanginang mga Papa. Umuwi na kayo.”
As things stand now in China’s enormous potential investment in developing Asean economies, the Philippines is at the cellar. Here are figures in this regard from the Philippines-Asia Institute for Strategic Studies (PAISS). In descending order, China’s investment in the Asean region is as follows (in million dollars): Singapore, 4,963; Laos, 1,357; Indonesia, 1,328; Thailand, 443; Malaysia, 408; Vietnam, 323; Myanmar, 206; Philippines, 24.
In my recent visit to Shanghai, I simply marveled at the immensity of the development the metropolis has undertaken since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) took over the mainland in 1949. That was the time when you would see a common sign on imperialist restaurants entrances: “Dogs and Chinese not allowed.” Now Shanghai gloats over its glory as the largest commercial center of China, its people, all 24 million of them, a picture of humanity happily at peace with their freedom as much as with their prosperity. Shanghai’s skyline is a magnificent seascape of skyscrapers like so many Chinese chins tilted upward to the sky in pride.
Shanghai is the paradigm of Chinese growth in every aspect of happy, civilized, humane living that has made want and suffering of its citizens forever a thing of the past. This is the kind of living that Filipinos would aspire for in their times of need and misery and social uncertainty. And it’s all there virtually for our taking. China has truly grown into a caring, doting big brother now offering to share his bounty with his Asean brothers, as the figures above would attest to. Problem is, as the figures show, the Philippines continues to content itself with morsels of the Chinese pie.
About time we took a truly big bite, too, like Singapore perhaps. All it seems to need really is for Duterte to push through his visit to China, scheduled for Oct. 19, 2016, according to an earlier announcement. Such a visit is expected to set the tone for realizing finally the Philippine President’s now much-ballyhooed pivot toward America’s arch-deterrent for world hegemony.
The only questions remaining yet unanswered are two:
First, I recall somebody telling a story that at the 2014 East Asia Summit in Indonesia, Chinese President Xi Jinping made the rounds of the participating heads of state, shaking their hands – but for one, President Benigno Aquino 3rd, who, it is said, refused to return the courtesy gesture. Jinping was heard remarking later, “I will wait for the next Philippine President.” So the question here is: “Is Duterte the next Philippine President President Xi Jinping is waiting for?”
Granting Duterte is that President, the second question inevitably arises: Will the US let him do the pivot?
Your guess is not as good as mine. I don’t guess. My say: US won’t.