Tuesday, 24 January 2017 09:40

PH, China firm up 30 projects worth $3.7B

China and the Philippines have agreed to cooperate on 30 projects worth $3.7 billion focusing on poverty reduction, the two countries announced after a meeting in Beijing on Monday.

Chinese Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng announced the agreement without giving details, saying it involved an “initial batch” of projects that still needed to be finalized and paperwork still needed to be processed by the banks involved.

Duterte visit

In a statement from Beijing, Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez mentioned irrigation systems, hydroelectric power plants and railways, details of which, he said, would be fleshed out with Chinese officials during two days of meetings that end on Tuesday.

The deal is the first announcement from a two-day visit of a Philippine Cabinet delegation to China that comes three months after President Duterte visited Beijing to clear the way for new commercial alliances.

China has welcomed Mr. Duterte’s foreign policy shift away from the United States and toward doing more regional deals for loans and business under his “pro-Filipino” policy.

Relations between the Philippines and China “fully recovered” after Mr. Duterte’s visit, and “China supports President Duterte to lead the Philippines people in developing their economy,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying told a regular news briefing on Monday.

Hua was referring to Mr. Duterte’s fence-mending after relations between China and the Philippines were frayed by a territorial dispute in the South China Sea that Beijing lost to Manila in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague last year.

After taking office in June last year, Mr. Duterte deferred assertion of the court’s ruling to ease tensions between the two countries and improve relations.

Chinese officials pledged $15 billion of investment to Manila during Mr. Duterte’s visit to Beijing in October last year, according to the Department of Finance (DOF).

Asked by reporters in Beijing whether US President Donald Trump’s economic policies would affect commercial ties between China and the Philippines, Dominguez said: “It’s better to be with good friends.”

“I’m not sure at this moment exactly what the new US policies [are], but I believe that the reorientation of our President to our neighbors really was very smart,” he said.

The Philippine delegation was scheduled to meet Vice Premier Wang Yang at Zhongnanhai, the Beijing complex that houses China’s central government, later on Monday.

In his statement released by the DOF, Dominguez said he had a “very productive” meeting with Gao and that they had discussed large projects in rural areas, as well as some smaller projects.

“This will be our second discussion [with Chinese officials about the projects] since November last year. We hope that [during] our visit here, we [will] be able to proceed with the projects that are ready to be implemented,” Dominguez said.

Matching priorities

“We submitted last November a list of projects to the Chinese government through the Chinese Embassy in Manila for their review. The Philippine team would like to get their reactions and determine what their priorities are and see whether this also match our priorities,” he said.

Dominguez said “the generous assistance offered by China to the Philippines is among the concrete results of the President’s foreign policy rebalancing toward accelerated integration with [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] and its major Asian trading partners China, Japan and South Korea.”

“The President has recognized the importance of China in the region and he has redirected our economy more toward China and the Asean than to the West,” he said.

“I believe that China will continue to lead the world and continue to lead the Asean in becoming the engine of global growth,” he added.

Philippine delegation

The Philippine delegation includes Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade and Public Works Secretary Mark Villar.

Besides meetings with Gao and Wang, the Philippine delegation will also meet Vice Chair Wang Xiaotao of the National Development and Reform Commission, China’s chief planning and strategy agency.

The Filipino officials also plan to meet top executives of China Investment Corp., a sovereign wealth fund.

“The meetings will cover discussions on the government-to-government projects signed between the Philippines and China, the proposed projects for financing and feasibility studies, the chairmanship of the Philippines this year of the Asean, and matters concerning the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Philippines’ flagship infrastructure projects,” the DOF said in a statement.
Published in News
Tuesday, 17 January 2017 10:09

Kitchen diplomacy

IT appears that the underpinnings of an incipient Dutertenomics is coming into shape with the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) doing a first with an open consultation with the public on the Philippine Development Plan (2017-2022). The five planks opened for public review were creatively termed as: Malasakit (Enhancing the Social Fabric), Pagbabago (Reducing Inequality in Economic Development Opportunities) and Kaunlaran (Increasing Potential Growth). NEDA likewise asked for comments on two additional sections: macroeconomic and competition policies and infrastructure development and ecological integrity.

Dutertenomics at its core revolves around peace and order, geopolitical rebalancing, improvement of frontline service, simplicity and a lot of common sense in governance. One piece still evolving is the much-needed tax reform. Peace and order focuses on the police and the military and public order issues as well as the war against illegal drugs.

Geopolitical rebalancing is based on hopefully a soon-to-be-defined foreign policy and national security framework, the components of which are ASEAN- and Asian-focused, and the redefinition of our relationship with the United States, China and Russia. Frontline service has clearly been felt in the way government delivers services to the public but it will even take a bigger structural reform, that of the change into federalism and a parliamentary system. With federalism you bring government closer to the people. With a parliament, one forces the need to have real political parties in the country. These are parties that win because of ideology and programs and not by machinations of foreign and local operators paid by tremendous sums of money that makes winning a transactional deal than a democratic one.

Simplicity and common sense are values that this administration seems to embrace to its core. Protocols have been minimized. Pomp and pageantry scaled down and common sense injected in every problem-solving exercise and decision-making process. The leader deals in broad strokes, leaving the details to the Cabinet to thresh out. There are good and bad points in doing so but it seems the system now in place may not be the best in terms of responding to issues. That does not mean the system does not work. In fact, it seems to be moving well, adjusting as the Cabinet meets a hurdle and recalibrating when needed.

The simplicity was awe-inspiring during the state visit of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. As the first foreign leader to visit Duterte (as well as Davao), it signaled to all that Japan is the chosen one as the vital partner in international relations and diplomacy of PRRD. The formalities were toned down and it was a revelation to see stiff and protocol-centric Japanese politicians do away with what they have been used to in dealing with Filipino leaders. PRRD showed Abe who he is. He opened his home and had his favorites for breakfast and Abe gamely tasted the biko, suman, kutsinta and mongo soup. It was show and not tell to Duterte and Abe was rockstar in a carefully drilled itinerary executed masterfully by Ambassador Marciano Paynor, Jr., chief protocol officer.

For Japanese businessmen, it has been said that sealing deals are off the boardrooms, and the meeting at the kitchen table of the simple home of PRRD showed to all the mastery of PRRD and his team. It showed to the West what Asian values are and what can be discussed and agreed upon outside of the formalities of office. Leaders can be just their ordinary selves and yet still be able to agree on so much. The “kitchen diplomacy” resulted in Japan matching China’s pledge to PRRD (in business, rice cakes and mongo soup for a trillion yen package will now be the norm). Who will first deliver on their pledges will define Duterte’s foreign play in the region.

Interestingly, Abenomics, the economic policies advocated by PM Abe, is based on “three arrows of fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms.” The ideological basis of Abenomics is also related to the rise of China as an economic and political power. There are explicit parallels between Abenomics and the Meiji- era program of fukuoku kyohei (enrich the country, strengthen the army). In addition to providing a “stronger counterweight to China in the Asia-Pacific region, strengthening the Japanese economy is also intended to make Japan less reliant on the United States for defense.”

We should also give it to PM Abe for being game and positively responding to every event laid out for his visit. As our top trading partner and per PRRD, “truly a brother,” Japan is the anchor that PRRD has chosen to throw to the Asian continent in the rebalancing that is taking shape in our foreign policy. But even Japan is countering the sudden influence of China with PRRD with Abe’s pledge of a “¥1 trillion aid package to the Philippines, including government aid and private investments, over the next five years to help its infrastructure development and strengthen strategic ties with the key Asia-Pacific nation.”

As the United States’ influence with PRRD is shaky, Japan is now the countervailing force to China in the region. Duterte’s sound byte is clear and precise: “We will continue to forge ahead with our efforts to advance the rule of law in order to secure the waters in our region.” Dutertenomics further stressed that “as maritime nations, the Philippines and Japan have a shared interest in keeping our waters safe and secure from threats of any kind.”

Duterte seems to have integrated the Golden Rule in foreign policy: “Don’t do to other nations what we don’t want them to do to us.” In seven months, Duterte’s voice, emanating from a small nation strategically located in the Pacific, is no longer in the wilderness. The “little brown brother” has roared and is now primus inter pares. And yes, Juana, the kitchen does wonders!
Published in Commentaries
Philippine politician Rodrigo Duterte, who has an unbeatable lead in unofficial tallies in the country’s presidential race, will push to rewrite the constitution and change to a federal system of government, his spokesman has said.
Published in News
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