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Philippines Should Steer Clear of China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Trap

China’s One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR)
China’s One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR). Photo: defenceaviationpost.com

s Philippine President Rodrigo Dutete finally coming around to the realization that Communist China is not really our friend? A recent article by Richard Javad Heydarian in the Asia Times that Duterte reiterated his “earlier threats that Beijing’s activities in contested South China Sea areas could soon tilt towards armed conflict.”

It is high time that the Philippine president view China’s friendly overtures with a generous amount of skepticism. China’s promised largesse towards Manila soon after the UN arbitral tribunal’s 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines, hasn’t quite happened according to both Chris Chappell of China Uncensored, and Alvin Camba of the South China Morning Post.

In his article titled: What happened to the billions China pledged the Philippines? Not what you think, Cambia notes “China’s US$ 24 billion commitment to the Philippines, comprising US$ 15 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) and US$ 9 billion in aid, has barely materialised since an agreement in October 2016 in which the funds were committed.” So far, only US$ 1 billion of the US$ 15 billion in FDI, and US$ 75 million of the US$ 9 billion in aid, has been disbursed.

Chappell’s YouTube video shows a clip of Duterte’s February speech to the Filipino-Chinese business community where he asks China in frustration “Why are you so sparing? If you want, just make us a province like Fujian so everything will be free.” His audience, which included the Chinese ambassador, laughs at the president’s humorous offhanded remark.

However, what is no laughing matter, appears to be China’s dismissive attitude towards the Philippines. Duterte, who gave up more than most Filipinos would have wanted, in favor of closer ties with China, has been left holding the bag—an almost empty bag.

At this point in time, maybe it is best that Duterte not press China to make good on its promises. Given the disastrous experience of many other countries that received Chinese loans and investments, Duterte should just leave well enough alone.

Cambodia, Djibouti, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, to name just a few, are finding out that Chinese funded projects benefit China and saddle the borrowers with debts difficult to repay. In fact China’s One Belt One Road initiative (OBOR) might as well be renamed One Belt One Road—One Onerous Debt initiative. So Filipinos should count their lucky stars and be thankful that at this stage, their exposure OBOR loans and investments are still miniscule. It is best they stay that way.

Duterte must now focus on getting back the islands in the South China Sea that belong to the Philippines. In a recent Inquirer article, Vincent Cabreza notes that “Several world powers have been asserting what the Duterte administration has refused to invoke: the 2016 international arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea and legitimized the Philippines’ maritime territory.”

Quoting Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, the Inquirer states “The United States, France, Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan have deployed naval ships and airplanes near the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the South China Sea in response to China’s militarization of the Spratlys.” Justice Carpio correctly states: “’Let us not kid ourselves. China built those military bases in the Spratlys to enforce the nine-dash line—to grab 80 percent of our EEZ,’ he told a forum in Baguio City.”

If Duterte wants people to believe the tough-guy, Punisher, image he tries to project, he needs the Philippines to join the other countries in their freedom of navigation excursions in contested waters of the South China Sea. Filipinos must stand up for their rights and not depend on others to fight their fight. As president, Duterte must show some spunk and lead the way. Published 8/26/2018

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