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Philippines: Statement of Vice President Leni Robredo on the President’s plan to “ignore” the arbitral ruling in favor of joint exploration with China in the West Philippine Sea (12.09.2019)

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Philippines: Are we seeing a slow Chinese takeover?

Certainly, the massive loans given to the “Build! Build! Build” are starting to cost. As the big infrastructure projects and other loans are taking their toll on the economy. Therefore, the Philippines and President Rodrigo Duterte are trying to collect something. It seems like the Chinese counterparts are getting lots of collateral and salvage the spent funds in Philippines. Because, as the weeks goes by and the ASEAN friends, the one with the upper-hand is China.

This is surely not how Duterte want it too look, as they are having a bargain. There has already been putting into question the control of Benham Rise and the hard-won control of the island there. Still, the Republic haven’t fought with tooth and nail to get it back. This week, it seems like there are more installations on it. The sovereign Philippines are being toyed with by China. They are being fooled and has to accept deals, because of the loans to Beijing. Manila is indebted and has to give concessions. Why else, would this week be filled with new Chinese interference and getting licenses in the Philippines?

Weather Station Controversy:

“It is currently coordinating with concerned government agencies, as well as with the Philippine Embassy in Beijing to verify the existence or non-existence of these alleged facilities,” he said. Panelo earlier addressed this concern on Monday saying Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin jr. will “do his job” once the reports have been verified. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang announced on November 1 that Beijing has already begun operating weather stations on the artificial islands in South China Sea. “These projects are designed to observe the maritime, hydrological, meteorological conditions and air qualities, and provide such services as maritime warning and forecast, tsunami alert, weather forecast, air quality forecast, and disaster prevention and relief,” Lu Kang said in a press conference” (Janine Peralta – ‘Philippines to take action if Chinese weather stations in South China Sea are verified — Palace’ 06.11.2018 link: http://cnnphilippines.com/news/2018/11/06/ph-china-south-china-sea-panelo.html).

Oil Fields:

One of the projects included an exploration between state-owned Philippine National Oil Company (PNOC) and Chinese state-owned CNOOC Ltd., located off Calamian in southwestern Palawan province, Cusi told Manila Bulletin in a news briefing. Cusi was referring to Service Contract 57 which covers an oil and gas project awarded to PNOC’s exploration unit, and picked CNOOC as a partner. Cusi did not share details for Service Contract 72, an exploration permit held by the Philippines’ PXP Energy Corp. for Reed Bank, but clarified that the Reed Bank, another disputed South China Sea area, is not of the two” (Meanne Rosales – ‘ PH to seal 2 exploration deals with China’ 09.11.2018, link: https://powerphilippines.com/2018/11/09/ph-seal-2-exploration-deals-china/)

Chinese Telecommunication as the Third Telco:

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has lauded the entry of China Telecommunications Corp., or China Telecom, in his country’s telecommunication industry, saying the Philippines stands to benefit from the “good competition” that a Chinese company will bring to the industry” (…) “Duterte said that China “has proved to be of very incredibly high quality of electronics.” “(Xinhuanet – ‘Duterte welcomes China Telecom’s operating in Philippines’ 08.11.2018).

As we see, the sudden Benham Rise in the South China Sea and the will of China to takeover the place, while the Malacañang are preoccupied with sneering at priests, Rappler and who else who hurt their pride. They are not seeing or looking away from the sovereign implications on Benham Rise. As there are talks already of military installations, but now also monitoring equipment and a weather station. Clearly, the Chinese sees it as their land, while the PH are busy trying to find out what is happening there.

Than, you have the oil-fields in the same region, where the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC) have gotten licenses to drill oil there. Clearly, this is all intentional, as well as they are the lucky third Telecommunication Company and getting into the Cellphone business too. This is just fitting as a glove. They are both getting territory in the South China Sea, they are getting exploitation opportunities and steady profits through a cell-phone carrier. All this they have gotten for dropping some loans, that is hard for the Philippines to repay in cash.

That is why they are allowed to get these things, as collateral for the debt. This is a game the Chinese plays well. That is why this is all happening. We have seen similar efforts done in Sri Lanka. That will surely happen in the Philippines too. As the Chinese is not forgiving with their loans. They want points on the dollar. Not loose money and certainly not lose face on the investments made. Peace.

Is the Filipino getting into a debt-trap with China like Sri Lanka and Tonga?

If you owe your bank a hundred pounds, you have a problem. But if you owe a million, it has.”John Maynard Keynes

There are worries about the rising levels of debt the Philippines has to China. That should worry all Filipino. Since, this will be repaid, even as the infrastructure projects under the President is served now. The time for repaying these debts will come. This might be the next one after President Rodrigo Roa Duterte might have to answer for that. But he should be worry himself of the levels he is putting the Republic in, unless he wants important parts of the infrastructure be “given” to the Chinese as a way of repaying the debt like Sri Lanka did.

The conclusion of an agreement with China to manage the Hambantota port was seen as inevitable after the government buckled under Chinese pressure when the China Communication and Construction Co Ltd, which was building the port city, demanded USD 143 million as compensation for the stalling of the work. The Sri Lankan government was also compelled to renegotiate the Colombo Port city project last year, which had been suspended due to criticism about the Chinese ownership of 20 hectares of freehold land as well as controversy over the project’s possible negative environmental impact” (Smruti S. Pattanaik – ‘New Hambantota Port Deal: China Consolidates its Stakes in Sri Lanka’ 17.08.2017).

This story should be worrying for the Philippines as the rising debt to China will come to roost one day. Duterte has accepted and taken it for his projects, but will it be sustainable. That is something he himself should ask himself and also if they can repay this debt without paying a high price.

Jovito Jose P. Katigbak reported in June 2018 this: “Another issue worth noting is debt sustainability. There are concerns that borrowing heavily from China will lead the country into a debt trap. A 2017 Forbes article contends that the Philippine government debt could swell up to USD 452 billion by 2027, which translates to a debt-to-GDP ratio of 197 percent. The estimated figure is based on an annual 10 percent interest rate on loans levied by the Chinese government, hence tying the Philippines into a “virtual debt bondage”” (CIRSS Commentaries – ‘BRIDGING THE INFRASTRUCTURE INVESTMENT GAP THROUGH FOREIGN AID: A BRIEFER ON CHINESE ODA’ June 2018).

If the Filipino doesn’t get to worried about the amount they are borrowing from China. It isn’t only Sri Lanka who has eaten over more debt than they can swallow and has to repay with other means. There are worry in the Pacific island of Tonga.

As reported from Tonga: “Chinese aid in the Pacific region has increased dramatically in recent years and the country has become the region’s second-largest donor. Tonga’s debt to China has been estimated to be more than $100m by Australia’s Lowy Institute think-tank. The prime minister told local media last week that countries would get together to ask the Chinese government to “forgive their debts”. “To me, that is the only way we can all move forward, if we just can’t pay off our debts,” he added. Beijing has refused to write off loans in the past but has given Tonga an amnesty on repayments” (Simone Rench – ‘Tonga premier to ask China to ‘forgive’ Pacific debts’ 21.08.2018 link: https://www.publicfinanceinternational.org/news/2018/08/tonga-premier-ask-china-forgive-pacific-debts).

We have seen what the Chinese done to the Sri Lankan and Tongan counterparts. Both of instances could be happening to the Philippines. Not that you wish that, but the repayments of the growing debt will happen at one point. Even if there is long grace-period of lower rates on the interests as promised to Manila. You can wonder when the Beijing want to recoup the funds and the debt.

Right now, Duterte has a good relationship with Beijing, but when do they feel they have invested enough in the Build! Build! Build! (BBB) projects and wants profits and returns on the investments?

Because the Chinese will not do this forever. They might act nice at first and investing in infrastructure projects as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but when time goes by and lack of repayment hits the fan. The familiar faces of Beijing will get their value for the money and the sovereignty will be taken away. As a port, a piece of mines or exploration of some sort of industrial output will go directly to Beijing and a state owned company. Since they will get their repayment for all the offered debt to the nation.

That is what Duterte is risking, if it is oil exploration and extraction, mineral resources or even ports that is vital to the business done in the Philippines. Does he wants to risk that for the signature building of the BBB?

Peace.

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