IN TWO weeks, we should know if President Duterte’s “pasalubong” of 19 new investment and trade deals brought home from Beijing yesterday would be enough to calm concerns that he has gone overboard in his love affair with China.
We would see soon also if the deals, said to be worth some $12.6 billion, could offset Duterte’s failure to secure an assurance from President Xi Jinping that China would remove in time its militarized installations squatting on features in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
There is an ugly perception that Duterte, cozying up to Beijing, has traded national pride and patrimonial assets for promised development assistance. That impression has threatened the chances of his candidates for the 12 Senate seats at stake in the May 13 midterm election.
Duterte was lucky Xi told him at least that China would not build on Panatag (Scarborough) shoal off Zambales and not occupy Pag-asa island in the town of Kalayaan in Palawan – as if those concessions made up for, and should make acceptable, its grabbing other areas in the Philippines’ EEZ.
He talked Thursday morning with Xi and later with Premier Le Kequiang on the side of the April 25-27 Belt and Road Initiative forum attended by some 40 state leaders. Xi reportedly told him China would provide a one-billion-yuan grant to the Philippines on top of other assistance it may extend.
Duterte was able to mention the issue of Philippine sovereign rights in its maritime areas as validated in 2016 by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague. As expected, Xi merely reiterated Beijing’s position that it does not recognize that PCA award.
Such was their open-shut discussion over the PCA’s invalidating Chinese claim over much of the South China Sea that overlaps the West Philippine Sea. Yet Xi still told Duterte, who has only three years left of his term, that they could settle disputes through negotiations, not confrontation.
We saw no mention in media that Duterte was able to ask if there could be a renegotiation of earlier big-ticket loan contracts that had been denounced in Manila as onerous, possibly unconstitutional and leading to debt traps.
Poor Duterte, who forgot to wear a tie, was negotiating from the position of a borrower with no ready fallback creditors and nothing else of value to hock.
In closing remarks, he ended up reciting the usual diplomatic jargon on the value of amity, respect and mutually beneficial relations that — thank God he was able to add — should not make one dependent on the other.
Complaining of migraine the following day, the overworked President skipped the gala dinner for the BRI forum participants.
Filipinos can only guess how fast/slow the 19 new deals will materialize, how Duterte can live down the Chinese occupation of Philippine areas under his watch, and manage the displacing of Filipinos by Chinese workers in projects and the harassing of local fishermen by Chinese guards at Panatag.
A nagging question is: Can Duterte’s sojourn to Beijing to solicit reassurance on top of more aid and investments dispel voters’ doubts hanging over him and his senatorial candidates tainted by his obvious pro-China bias?
• China deals to create 20,000 jobs
AS POINTED out in our Postscript of April 23, Duterte is under extreme time pressure. Unlike his counterpart Xi whose term limit as president was lifted last year, he has only three years left to show results. See: https://tinyurl.com/yyb4h9qd
Officials said the new China deals are expected to create over 20,000 jobs for Filipinos, but that is still only on paper.
Just tying up the projects’ administrative loose ends, freeing up sites and rights-of-way, timely releasing of funds, mobilization, construction, fending off legal challenges, et cetera, could eat up much of the next three years of Duterte.
By the time a project is set to start operations, the President’s term may be over. Nevertheless, to give an idea of what deals could soon be in the Beijing pipeline, here are some of those listed Friday in media.
The Cagayan Economic Zone Authority wrapped up several agreements, including:
*A partnership with Yatai International Holdings Group for the establishment of a science and technology center or a comprehensive smart city in the province.
*An agreement with Global Millennial QuickPay for Fintech Hub.
*With Pai Hao Investment and Immigration Consultant Limited, CEZA entered into an agreement with Filipino groups for the upgrading of the Cagayan International Airport.
*A partnership with Chinese firms Dawah and Apsaraz for the establishment of a yacht club.
*An agreement with Guanan Group of China to set up Green Textile Industrial Park in CEZA.
Another contract was finalized for the proposed 250-megawatt South Pulangi Hydroelectric Power Plant in Damulog, Bukidnon. To be developed by Pulangi Hydro Power Corp. and China Energy Co. Ltd., the project aims to help improve power supply reliability and resilience, particularly in Mindanao. The project costs $800 million and is expected to create 5,000 jobs.
Filipino conglomerate Tranzen Group signed an agreement with China Power Investment Holding for thermal, hydro and renewable power plants, with an estimated total project cost of from $1.5 billion to $2 billion. The plants are expected to open some 1,000 jobs.
The Davao Occidental local government and Fengyuan Holdings signed a memorandum of understanding for a $1.5-billion petrochemical refinery processing plant complex to be built at the Tubalan Cove Business and Industrial Park. The project will employ around 500 workers.
The Department of Energy, Shanghai Electric Group Co. Ltd. and Deluxe Family Co. Ltd. signed a $40-million memorandum of understanding to collaborate in the promotion of the use of indigenous, new and renewable energy resources. It is part of a long-term plan to reduce dependence on imported fuels.