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China's 'bait' for the Philippines

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President Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot to China and apparent veer away from long-time partner and ally, the United States, came into focus once more with the visit to the Philippines of China President Xi Jinping. Readily upon arrival, Xi extended a message of strengthened cooperation and friendship, even comparing Philippine national hero Dr. Jose Rizal whom Xi claimed to have Chinese blood with ancestors from Fujian province to Mr. Duterte. At the state banquet in Malacanang, President Xi likened Duterte to Rizal for making the “ultimate sacrifice” for his country and pushing for an “independent Philippines.” The China leader said: “I commend the President for taking on Jose Rizal’s mantle and for his commitment to an independent Philippines.”


Claiming the Philippines now as a strategic ally of China, Mr. Xi saw the signing of 29 agreements, including one calling for joint exploration for gas and natural resources in South China Sea, including the disputed waters of Philippine Sea and the islands, shoals and reefs being claimed by the two countries. Mr. Xi has also offered billions of dollars in assistance, grants and loans in support of the Philippine government’s “Build, Build, Build” program covering bridges connecting islands, highways, railways and other important infrastructures.


Philippine leaders are happy with the offers of Mr. Xi but many are wary about the consequences as, for one, it may jeopardize the Philippines’ claims in the disputed waters which it had won in the United Nation’s International Arbitrary Court. What also disturbs many Filipinos is the possibility of putting the Philippines in a “quagmire of debts” where it will be drowned and never to surface again. This fears are based on the examples of some countries indebted to China and when the countries defaulted, Beijing reportedly took over, a consequence described as “an economic invasion and takeover.”


Experts and academicians thus are urging Filipino leaders to be extra careful in the offerings of China. While partnership is most welcomed, the “bait” when gobbled up may lead to perdition instead of progress for the Philippines. There should be no rush to taking some or all the offers considering that the decisions made today will affect the next generations.    


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