“Growing Strength” of PH-China relations: Boon or Bane?

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute

Are Filipinos benefitting from the growing strength of Philippine-China relations?

Majority of Filipinos are still waiting for China to fulfill its commitment to provide billions of dollars of aid and investment under its own “One Belt, One Road” initiative.

Many political observers believe that the soft stance of our government on the issue of militarization in the West Philippines Sea has provided more gains for Beijing than Manila. The lack of strong diplomatic actions and protests are alarming despite the apparent Chinese “harassment” and “bullying” of Filipino fishermen. Unfortunately, such inaction did not provide us any leverage over our own economic exclusive zone. The recent developments in the South China Sea have shown the continued weakness and acquiescence of the Philippines to the dictates of China.

Meanwhile, the significant increase of imports from China as well as the surge of Chinese arrivals in the Philippines apparently favor the Asian power more than the Philippines. In 2017, 13 percent of our total exports went to China amounting to $8.02 billion but China gained more than double that amount as we imported a total of $17.46 billion worth of goods in the same year.

Recently, some senators expressed concern over the growing number of Chinese workers in the country and its effect on our local workforce. Data from the Bureau of Immigration showed that more than one million Chinese have entered the country either as a tourist or a worker in 2017 alone. Sen. Joel Villanueva, Chair of the Committee on Labor, warned that these Chinese nationals might be “stealing jobs from Filipinos.” More than 119,000 Chinese “tourists” have skirted labor regulations to gain temporary employment in the country.

The shift in the Philippines’ foreign policy is not a mere tactical move. It carries with it serious strategic implications in areas of politics, economy, and security. Certain conditions and factors should be taken into account as the Philippines make a pivot to China.

First, the existing economic and military agreements with the U.S. government, Japan, and other traditional allies should be taken into consideration given this policy shift. It may complicate or water down the defense agreements with the U.S. government such as the Mutual Defense Treaty and Enhanced and Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Second, we need to account for the reaction and perspective of the other countries that share a common interest with the Philippines vis-à-vis the dispute. In this case, will the other countries perceive such joint exploration agreement or understanding between the Philippines and China as capitulation or innovation?

Lastly, other interested countries like Australia, Japan, India, Great Britain, and the U.S. should also be critically considered.

The public should remain vigilant as the Philippines recently signed 29 agreements with China affecting economic, social, cultural, environmental, humanitarian aid, law enforcement, infrastructure and monetary affairs.

The emergence of Mislatel, a joint venture between Udenna Corporation and China Telecommunications Corporation, as the third major telecommunications player in the Philippines may impinge on national security.

Contrary to public pronouncements, we are not headed towards a win-win solution. The current situation requires urgent actions because of certain threats and challenges.

The bilateral relations with China should be able to demonstrate results than simple promises in terms of job creation; poverty alleviation; increase in Chinese foreign direct investment; and technological advancement.

Justice Antonio Carpio and former Foreign Affairs secretary Alberto del Rosario had urged the current administration to be more transparent in their dealings with China. At all times, the Philippines should not undermine the 2016 Arbitral ruling and the Philippine Constitution, which requires that the Philippines shall have full control and supervision in the exploration and exploitation of its natural resources. Any agreement on joint exploration and exploitation should be done with great prudence and caution.

For their part the regional and international community should hold China accountable to President Xi Jinping’s pronouncements to “continue to manage contentious issues and promote maritime cooperation through friendly consultation.”

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