The Philippines should expect more partnerships with China in trade, tourism, agriculture, public housing, and security after President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s state visit, a Filipino-Chinese business group said.
Photo Insert: Philippine President Bongbong Marcos and Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping
“We are hopeful for enhanced Philippines-China economic and development partnership, especially in areas of agriculture, trade, infrastructure, energy, tourism, and people-to-people exchanges,” Henry Lim Bon Liong, president of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (FFCCCII), told a public forum on Wednesday.
“Likewise, there are opportunities to explore technological cooperation in telecoms, bioscience, medical science, energy, mining, and industrial development,” he added. Mr. Marcos is scheduled to meet Chinese President Xi Jingping during his state visit to China, which starts on Jan. 3. The FFCCCII will be part of the Philippine business delegation to China.
Lim Bon Liong said the Philippines should also consider fisheries cooperation between rural coastal fishing communities, as well as partnerships in security, disaster preparedness, public housing, and public health.
“We hope this state visit shall pave the way for more infrastructure cooperation, especially since China is now the world leader in modern and high-speed trains, in bridge and other construction technologies,” he said.
China has funded several Philippine projects such as the Estrella-Pantaleon Bridge and the Binondo-Intramuros Bridge. Citing China’s “growing consumer market,” Lim Bon Liong said Beijing would need sources of tropical fruits like banana, pineapple, durian, avocado, and mango. “Let us export and sell more to China,” he said.
The Philippines should also take advantage of the opportunity to attract more tourists from China, which is further easing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) restrictions from next month. China was the second largest source of inbound travelers to the Philippines before the pandemic. In 2019, 1.74 million Chinese tourists visited the Philippines, up 38.58% from 1.25 million in 2018.
“We in the Philippines have already opened our doors to foreign tourists and we hope this state visit of President Marcos can help us woo affluent China tourists again to visit our country as they reopen for travel,” Lim Bon Liong said.
Hotel owners are hoping to welcome more inbound travelers from China by the first quarter of 2023. “With this development in China, we’re hoping that by the first quarter, we can see some movements into the country already. But, of course, this will depend largely on the protocols that will be determined by health authorities,” Philippine Hotel Owners Association Executive Director Benito C. Bengzon, Jr. told newsmen
Flag carrier Philippine Airlines (PAL) announced on Dec. 23 that it would resume flights between Manila and Xiamen beginning this Jan. 13. “Starting with one flight per week, operating every Friday, the PAL route to Xiamen will build up frequencies over time, in line with the easing of restrictions and applicable government authorizations,” PAL said in a press statement. PAL also said that it would work towards resuming flights to more cities in China.
Meanwhile, Michael L. Ricafort, chief economist at Rizal Commercial Banking Corp., said Filipino exporters would likely benefit from Mr. Marcos’ visit to China. “We should expect more exports to China, which is among the country’s biggest export destinations,” he said in a written message.
Ricafort said improved foreign relations between the two countries — against the backdrop of the South China Sea dispute — would be “helpful” to the country’s business transactions with China.
China claims more than 80% of the South China Sea, which is believed to contain massive oil and gas deposits and through which billions of dollars in trade passes each year. It has ignored a 2016 ruling of a United Nations-backed arbitration court that voided its claim based on a 1940s map.
The Philippines has been unable to enforce the ruling and has since filed hundreds of protests over what it calls encroachment and harassment by China’s coast guard and its vast fishing fleet.
Terry L. Ridon, a public investment analyst, said Manila should get clarity from Beijing on the status of joint exploration plans in the disputed waterway and other commitments made during former President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s term. Mr. Marcos should ensure that revenue-sharing arrangements are “more favorable” to the Philippines, he said in a Messenger chat.
Mr. Duterte led a foreign policy pivot toward China and away from the US, the Philippines’ oldest security ally. Mr. Marcos, who took office in June, has vowed to make the Philippines a “friend to all” and “an enemy to none.”
“The President must ensure that economic concessions made during the Beijing trip should in no manner diminish our victory in the Hague ruling. It is a red line that the Philippine delegation should never cross,” Ridon said. He also said the Philippine government should clarify the status of ongoing and prospective development loans made under the previous administration and “determine whether Beijing remains committed to contributing to the country’s development.”
In July, the Transport department announced that the Philippine government had scrapped its loan applications with state-owned China Eximbank for three multibillion-peso railway projects undertaken under the previous administration.
“Beijing has to do more in developing relations with the Philippines,” Ridon said, noting that China’s advocates in the Philippine business sector tout enhanced bilateral relations but Chinese coastal militia continue to harass Filipino fishermen within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Last November, a Chinese coast guard vessel allegedly took by force a rocket debris that was being towed by a Philippine Navy ship in the South China Sea. Following the incident, Mr. Marcos questioned why the Chinese account was so different from the Philippine Navy report. He previously said his January visit to China could be an opportunity to find a way to avoid further incidents.