By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter
THE PHILIPPINES should keep its strong ties with China because the economic giant would play a key role in global affairs for decades to come, President Rodrigo R. Duterte said on Monday night.
The Southeast Asian nation could “count on China as a friend and partner for peace and development,” he said in a virtual speech during the Communist Party of China (CPC) and World Political Parties Summit.
Mr. Duterte heads the ruling PDP-Laban, which signed a cooperation deal with Chinese communist party in 2017.
“To further build mutual trust and confidence, we must sustain our constructive dialogue and peaceful engagement,” he said. “This is crucial as the bilateral relations between our two countries expand and deepen.”
The President, who led a foreign policy pivot to China away from western super powers such as the US, said the CPC had overseen China’s “extraordinary rise to prosperity, lifting over 800 million Chinese out of extreme poverty and driving global growth in the process.”
The Philippines got P1.2 trillion in investment and loan pledges from China to boost big-ticket infrastructure projects. Critics have said few of these promises materialized.
As China’s sole political party celebrated its 100th anniversary, Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to keep China’s influence on the global stage, saying it would continue to champion cooperation over confrontation and will “open up rather than closing our doors.”
He said China would use its development achievements “to provide the world with new opportunities,” including through its Belt and Road Initiative. The Philippines committed to support the global infrastructure project in 2018.
The pros and cons of infrastructure deals between the Philippines and China should be discussed publicly, said Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a lawyer and senior research fellow at the Ateneo De Manila University Policy Center.
“The Senate must take responsibility for this initiative,” he said in an e-mail. “At the very least, they can give advice to the President as to the public sentiment on this matter.”
As Beijing is set to take a more assertive stance on the global stage, the next Philippine President should put a premium on a multilateral foreign policy “while using bilateralism as a complementary strategy,” Mr. Yusingco said.
Amid the rivalry between China and the US, the country’s long-standing ally, the Philippines should adhere to a non-aligned foreign policy to gain more, said InfrawatchPH convenor Terry L. Ridon.
“There should be no problem engaging with Beijing on the Belt and Road Initiative, as other major economies also have their own counterpart development aid platforms for the developing world,” he said in an e-mail. “But the new administration should order a review of all projects funded through official development assistance to determine compliance with existing laws and regulations, specifically relating to environmental and social protection and good governance.”
Mr. Ridon said Mr. Duterte’s successor should pursue infrastructure projects based on the country’s development needs “instead of using projects as a platform to showcase warming relations.
“We can engage with all economies as their needs are fundamentally different from each other, and we have economic needs that may be supplied by one nation and not the other,” he added.
The Philippines should assess whether its “economic benefits from China exceed the costs,” said John Paolo R. Rivera, an economist from the Asian Institute of Management. “This is a basic rule in deciding whether a deal is worth venturing into.”
“It would be interesting for the Philippines to weigh the costs and benefits of a truly independent foreign policy by adhering to a nonaligned approach,” Mr. Rivera said in an e-mail. “There are lessons that can be learned from economies that consistently demonstrate neutrality.”
Negotiation is advisable as long as both parties treat each other as co-equals, said Antonio A. Ligon, a law and business professor at De La Salle University.
The Philippines sued China before a United Nations-backed international tribunal, questioning China’s claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea based on a 1940s map. In 2016, the court rejected China’s claim.
The Philippine can keep its ties with China without surrendering its sea claim, Mr. Ligon said. China refuses to honor the tribunal’s ruling.
“China is now considered a super power but when we sit at the negotiating table they should treat and respect us the same way with other countries they consider economically progressive,” he said.
Mr. Ligon said the Philippines could benefit from the rift between the US and China, adding that competition is “good because we always have options.”