PHIL-CHINA WATCH

By Herman Tiu Laurel

President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. will be meeting China’s President Xi Jinping in the first official visit outside of ASEAN in the first week of new year 2023. That is a significant point in itself I point out to many people, signifying the highest importance President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. is placing on Philippine relations with China.

For me this priority given to the visit to China balances off all the anxieties created by President Marcos Jr.’s overly nice treatment of the US, including the presidential silence on the outrageous emanations of the underlings giving verbal but yet presidentially unblessed assent to the assumed continuation of the EDCA agreement beyond its official term on April 2023 when it will be decided upon again.

Worse is the same yet without presidential imprimatur but too frequently reiterated granting of five new additional EDCA bases to the US to position more forces and facilities in the Philippines for what many believe and fear will be used in a war around Taiwan and/or around the South China Sea (SCS). Philippine foreign secretary Enrique Manalo, OIC defense chief Undersecreatry Jose Faustino Jr. and ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez have all been giving the disheartening signals.

We could take the fresh news of the reticent President Marcos Jr.’s now scheduled early state visit to China as a polite but tacit denial of these confusing signals from the underlings. The first state visit made by the President outside of the ritual courtesy to ASEAN centrality by an ASEAN member is always seen as the most significant foreign relations and policy signal of a new Philippine administration and President Marcos has by this signaled that China is still the “strongest partner” indeed.

The ties that bind the Philippines and China revolve around the friendship and cooperation established since 1975 by President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Sr. in 1975 and reinvigorated by President Rodrigo R. Duterte in 2016 onwards. Today it is in the hands of President Marcos Jr. to further firm up with President Xi Jinping and expand the USD24-billion funding and investments from China to the Philippines to now boost the post-pandemic recovery efforts.

China has delivered very substantially on its commitments which many Filipinos now enjoy in terms of physical infrastructure, technological assistance, social and disaster aid and pandemic crisis relief. The first of two assistance packages are already being appreciated by many Filipinos who now understood the real sincerity and goodwill of China to better its neighbors, particularly the Philippines where the majority of polled Filipinos now see China in very friendly terms.

Spelling out in particularly concrete projects that Filipinos are actually enjoying now are two bridges across the Pasig River easing traffic woes, better rice seeds from hybrids developed at the Philippine-Sino Center for Agricultural Technology (PhilSCAT), thousands of hectares more irrigated rice field from the Chico irrigations dam in Kalinga, millions of lives saved from 5 million doses of donated vaccines and over 50 million doses supplied. These are just a few among the rewards of the good ties.

President Bongbong Marcos will now complete the projects where President Duterte left off, such as the resumption of the USD3.5-billion PNR South Long-Haul train (Bicol Express), completion of the Davao-Samal connector bridge, the PHP81.7-billion 2,000-km Mindanao Circumferential Railway phase 1 from Tagum to Digos and a host of other project moving on to Package 2 of the Duterte-Xi agreement which will now be the Marcos-Xi projects.

The Philippines is now also looking forward to resuming the Philippine-China Reed/Recto Bank oil-gas joint venture on a 60/40 basis favoring the Philippines, which was scuttled by then foreign secretary Teodoro Locsin just a week before President Bongbong Marcos was inaugurated. President Marcos will now have the distinction of being the president that will open the second major oil and gas project to provide a major new indigenous energy source for the country.

The aggregate of projects in the pipeline and of new projects for the Bongbong “Build, Build, Build” version with China’s support and assistance is breathtaking, it’s up to the new president to exercise his imagination and creativity to fill his succeeding six-years with infrastructure, investments and other assistance he may tap from China which has similarly helped other ASEAN countries with high-speed rails, power projects and, just maybe, the dream of a nuclear power plant again.

During the Jan. 3 to 6 state visit to China’s President Xi Jinping, we urge Mr. President Bongbong to let his imagination roll when he meets President Xi Jinping, no project is too big or too much for China to consider for such an important friend of a millennium, and strategic “strongest partner” as the Philippines. Let the Philippine go with the tide of the Asian Century and China’s peaceful rise.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary. 

About the Columnist

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Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.