Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Malacaang file photo
uring Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent visit to the Philippines, total of 29 agreements signed between Xi and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Everything from “trade and investment, banking and finance, infrastructure, agriculture, education, culture and people-to-people exchanges,” all the way to a “memorandum of understanding (MOU) on cooperation on oil and gas development in the West Philippine Sea” as reported by the Philippine News Agency (PNA). The MOU in question has created significant ripples in the Philippine Senate where Duterte’s detractors say such an agreement might actually violate the country’s Constitution.
But for all Xi’s past promises of China’s financial largesse to Duterte, hardly any has come to fruition. Take Duterte’s Mindanao Rail Project. The USD$ 4 billion project plans to encircle the island of Mindanao with railroad tracks. As Bong Sarmiento in the Asian Times reported, Duterte himself, in his 2016 State of the Nation Address (SONA), “proudly predicted that the Mindanao railway system would be up and running before he steps down from power in mid-2022.”
In another more recent article, Sarmiento notes that “it remains unclear why Beijing has tarried in making actual outlays while other One Belt, One Road initiatives are steaming ahead in other Asian countries. Some analysts suggest Beijing may be withholding the funds until the bilateral relationship is more firmly consolidated, including in regard to unresolved territorial disputes in the South China Sea.”
Despite the tough-guy image he projects to his countrymen—and everyone else, Duterte appears beholden to China and Xi in particular. In their eyes he likely appears as the meek supplicant leader of a vassal state within their sphere of dominance.
As we have pointed out in a previous editorial, it might actually be a blessing in disguise that the Philippines has received few loans from China, given the back-breaking Chinese debt incurred by countries like Djibouti, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, and Cambodia—to name a few.
The Philippines would do best to deal with China at arm’s length, especially now that China, under Xi is showing the world its more aggressive, autocratic side. Also, the Philippines has been fighting communism since 1946. First, against Hukbalahaps, then the North Koreans, then the North Vietnamese, and to this day, the New People’s Army (NPA). For Duterte to think that Filipinos will now readily embrace the Communist Chinese is wishful thinking, given the fact that we have been fighting communism for more than half a century.
Futhermore, let us not forget that the People’s Republic of China has refused to turn over reefs, islands, and shoals that a lawfully constituted international court had unanimously adjudicated as belonging to the Philippines. China flexes its military muscle revealing its hegemonic aspirations with each passing day. Filipinos can see this and they will not be easily swayed. Published 11/25/2018