The Philippine pivot: Duterte readies huge business delegation for Beijing visit

admin   •   October 12, 2016   •   2932

President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a meeting with banana production businessmen in Davao city, in southern Philippines, October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr/File Photo

President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a meeting with banana production businessmen in Davao city, in southern Philippines, October 7, 2016. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr/File Photo

 

About 250 Philippine business executives will visit Beijing with President Rodrigo Duterte next week as he puts aside years of hostility to seek a new partnership with China at a time when tensions between Manila and its traditional ally, the United States, are mounting.

There has been no announcement about the delegation, but business groups and government officials said registration to join Duterte on his Oct. 19-21 visit had been oversubscribed. Filipino executives are eager to talk with Chinese business leaders and government officials about deals in a range of sectors, from rail, and construction to tourism, agribusiness, power and manufacturing, the sources said.

Initially only about two dozen Philippine entrepreneurs were to accompany Duterte but the number had ballooned to about 250, Trade Undersecretary Nora Terrado told Reuters. “I understand there are 100 more wanting to go,” Terrado said, adding the size of the delegation was unusual because the two sides agreed on the visit only about one month ago.

The trip could signal a transformation in a relationship dogged in recent years by mistrust over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea, and could upset strategic alliances in a region growing wary of China’s influence and military might and where the United States has a strong presence.

An arbitration court ruling in the Hague on July 12 that said China had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the South China Sea had threatened to lead to a further deterioration in ties between Manila and Beijing.

But Duterte, who took office on June 30 after winning an election in May, has instead aggressively courted China and said he wants to reduce the nation’s dependence on the United States. He has said he will hold talks with China on the South China Sea dispute.

His promises to engage with China have in large part come in a near-daily barrage of hostility against Washington, raising questions about whether his overtures carried weight, or were simply aimed at boosting his profile at home by espousing a “pro-Filipino” foreign policy.

CLOUDS “FADING AWAY”

In recent days there have been clear signs of improving business ties. On Saturday, Philippines Finance Minister Carlos Dominguez said in an interview in Washington that Duterte would seek billions of dollars in infrastructure investments from China in coming months. And Philippine Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol said on Sunday that China would lift a ban on fruit exports by 27 Philippine firms as a “gift” to Duterte.

And the size of the delegation going to China and early comments from senior government officials in Manila signal a new and potentially much deeper economic relationship with Beijing than there has ever been before.

“We do have a very popular president and the president decided that he wanted to have a better relationship with China,” said Francis Chua, chairman emeritus of Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“We are neighbours… this is actually what the president is thinking: instead of fighting, why don’t we just become friends?”

Officially, Beijing has yet to confirm Duterte’s visit, but Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing on Tuesday that both sides were in close contact and it hoped Duterte would visit at an early date. He said both sides had the desire to improve relations and China was willing to increase cooperation in all aspects.

Beijing’s ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua, has been more lyrical in welcoming the transformation. “The clouds are fading away. The sun is rising over the horizon, and will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations,” he said at a Chinese National Day reception in Manila last month.

Discussions between officials of the two governments would be held on the first day of the visit and on day two about 600 representatives of private firms from both countries would be addressed by Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, several sources said, citing a tentative program.

While no concrete deals have yet been finalised, several Filipino businessmen said exploratory talks would be held on cooperating in a range of sectors including industry, finance and low-cost manufacturing.

“We have members who are looking for some tie-up with their like in power, agriculture, financing facilities and joint ventures,” said Sergio Ortiz-Luis, president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation. “They (China) might be offering certain packages, grants on the table.”

Trade Minister Ramon Lopez told Reuters on Monday that Chinese manufacturers could benefit from low manufacturing wages in the Philippines, which could vie with Vietnam for some investments.

EARLY SIGNALS

Some Chinese companies have already indicated interest in new projects in the Philippines.

China’s CRRC-Dalian Co., Ltd, a unit of China’s CRRC Corp, said in a statement on Monday it had “solid intent” to modernize the antiquated railway system in the Philippines.

And while there has been no firm talk of defense deals, Duterte said last month the United States had refused to sell some weapons to his country but he didn’t care because Russia and China were willing suppliers.

U.S. officials said they were doing their best to ignore Duterte’s hostile rhetoric and taking comfort in the fact that he had yet to translate his words into less military cooperation.

A closer Philippines-China relationship, analysts say, could jeopardize regional efforts to forge a unified position on how to handle China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea.

By engaging with China, Duterte could improve his chances of tackling urgent issues at home, such as weak infrastructure, unemployment and energy security as domestic natural gas reserves run out.

There are oil and gas reserves off Palawan island and at the Reed Bank in the South China Sea but the Philippines lacks the expertise to exploit them. State-run Philex Petroleum has not ruled out resuming stalled joint surveys with China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) at the Reed Bank.

Undersecretary Terrado, who heads the trade ministry’s industrial promotions department, said it would be businesses setting the agenda themselves next week, free of government intervention.

“We are allowing market forces to just get it on,” said Terrado. — Reuters

China’s embassy in Kazakhstan warns citizens of pneumonia deadlier than COVID-19

Robie de Guzman   •   July 10, 2020

China’s embassy in Kazakhstan has warned its citizens on Thursday (July 9) to take precautions against an outbreak of pneumonia in the country that it says is more lethal than COVID-19.

It said in a statement on its official website late on Thursday that there had been a “significant increase” in cases in the cities of Atyrau, Aktobe and Shymkent since mid-June.

On Friday (July 10), however, Kazakhstan’s healthcare ministry branded Chinese media reports based on the embassy statement as “fake news”.

The ministry said its tallies of bacterial, fungal and viral pneumonia infections, which also included cases of unclear causes, were in line with World Health Organisation guidelines.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declined to comment on the issue directly during a Friday (July 10) briefing in Beijing, instead referring media to “the relevant authorities in Kazakhstan”.

“China also hopes to obtain information on this,” Zhao said.

Kazakhstan, which imposed a second lockdown this week to rein in the coronavirus pandemic, has a tally of almost 55,000 COVID-19 infections, including 264 deaths. The number of new cases rose on Thursday to a daily record of 1,962.

On Tuesday (July 7), state news agency Kazinform said the number of pneumonia cases “increased 2.2 times in June as compared to the same period of 2019”.

In its statement, the Chinese embassy had said pneumonia in Kazakhstan killed 1,772 people in the year’s first half, with 628 deaths in June, including Chinese citizens.

It is unclear whether the said pneumonia it referred to was caused by a virus related to coronavirus or a different strain. (Reuters)

(Production: Shubing Wang, Fang Nanlin)

Duterte on reopening the economy: ‘We cannot afford to gamble’

Marje Pelayo   •   July 9, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The country is not yet ready to fully reopen its economy, according to President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Chief Executive said the government is doing the process gradually, otherwise the number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections would spike that could lead to a bigger problem.

He said he cannot follow the example of other countries because the Philippines does not have as much resources if the situation gets worse.

“Tayong pobre we cannot afford really a total epidemic or pandemonium. Mahirap tayo. Hindi tayo puwedeng sumugal (As a poor country, we cannot afford really a total epidemic or pandemonium. We are poor. We cannot afford to gamble),” the President said during his public address on Tuesday evening (July 7).

President Duterte cited situations in the United States and Brazil where despite being powerful and wealthy, are not spared from the impact of the pandemic.

“Although they opened their economy for money to come into the government coffers, there was a spike. They were having a problem of almost a relapse — in the totality of the number,” he added.

Meanwhile, the President expressed doubts that the country has entered the second wave of COVID-19 outbreak.

“Now we do not even know if the number of 34, 178 of active cases is still a part of the first wave or have we arrived at the second wave. I don’t think so. We are still grappling with the first wave,” he argued.

He urged Filipinos to obey strict health protocols and have more patience as the government works to combat the pandemic.

Mga kababayan ko, ako mismo gusto ko nang lumabas. Ayoko nang magpapigil. Kung gusto ko nga makipag-away na ako. Ang problema iyon ang gusto ko, pero ang gusto ko ay hindi makakabuti sa ating lahat,” he said.

(My fellow countrymen, I personally I want to go out. I don’t want to be barred from doing so. I am even ready to fight over this. The problem is, what I want is not good for everyone.)

“We have to be very circumspect in reopening the economy. Dahan-dahan lang (Let’s do it gradually), because if you open the entire Philippines and thousands upon thousands of new cases would happen, then we are in deep s***. Talagang mahirapan tayo (We will seriously struggle),” he said. MNP (with inputs from Rosalie Coz)

China says willing to join arms treaty if U.S. reduces its nuclear arsenal

UNTV News   •   July 8, 2020

If the United States were willing to reduce its nuclear arsenal to China’s level, China would “be happy to” participate in trilateral arms control negotiation with the U.S and Russia, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Wednesday (July 8).

The U.S. has repeatedly called for China to join in trilateral negotiations to extend a flagship nuclear arms treaty between the U.S. and Russia that is due to expire in February next year.

Fu Cong, head of arms control department of Chinese foreign ministry, reiterated to reporters in Beijing on Wednesday that China has no interest in joining the trilateral negotiation. (Reuters)

(Production: Martin Pollard, Wang Shubing)

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