EMPHASIZING his trust and confidence in the Philippine economy under the helm of President Rodrigo Duterte, China’s Ambassador to Manila Zhao Jianhua says Beijing is a “great partner” for Manila. “I am more confident and optimistic about the future of the Philippine economy because of trust,” he says Friday at The 5th Business Forum, organized by The Manila Times, in Davao City.
Zhao, who says China wants emergency powers granted to Duterte so that infrastructure projects to be funded by Beijing would be fast-tracked and completed before the latter’s term ends in 2022, takes note of the Philippines as being the fastest-growing economy in all of Asia, with a 6.8-percent GDP growth in 2016, exceeding even that of China’s 6.7 percent, as compared to Vietnam’s 6.2 percent and Indonesia’s 5 percent.
Speaking before the forum dubbed “The Philippine Economic Outlook for 2017: Peace Toward Sustainable Prosperity,” held at the Marco Polo Hotel, Zhao says the Filipino people are their country’s “treasure and unique strength,” citing their perseverance, diligence, and industriousness. “The Philippines is also rich in natural resources and human dividends,” he says, which, coupled with the further promotion of trade and investments, as well as impressive economic performance, would breed further success.
In a presentation titled “The Philippine Economy and the Belt and Road Initiatives,” Zhao mentions some challenges, however, like infrastructure bottleneck, which, he says, could alleviate poverty if addressed well, as well as the lack of ample investments in rural development. This is where China comes in as a great partner, he says, as Beijing has committed to provide Manila $6 billion in soft loans and another $3-billion credit line with the Bank of China. He also says the two countries are talking about “cooperation programs” involving railways, roads, bridges, and agricultural support, among other infrastructure projects.
“We will try to finish a number of influencing infrastructure programs within the next three to five years,” says Zhao, who emphasizes China’s fear of funding infra projects with and in the Philippines that would not be completed before Duterte stepped down. “We have to get it done within the presidential term,” he says at the Feb. 10 forum. “We might be stuck there,” he adds, referring to the issue of emergency powers. “I think that’s one of the top priorities as far as infrastructure projects are concerned.”
Zhao says that when the Philippine Cabinet delegation, led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez 3rd, visited China last year, it proposed a total of 40 infrastructure projects, 15 of which would be financed externally while the other 25 would need support for feasibility studies. Three of the said 40 projects have already been identified, namely, the $53.6-million Chico River Pump Irrigation Project, in Cagayan and Kalinga; the $373-million New Centennial Water Source-Kaliwa Dam Project, in Rizal; and the South Line of the North-South Railway from Manila to Legaspi City which is about 653 kilometers.
“We are ready to grant assistance to construct bridges across the Pasig River, to ease traffic congestion in Metro Manila,” Zhao says, referring to nine projects (out of those proposed for feasibility-studies assistance) that aim to interconnect the Philippines’ main island groups, boost tourism, construct flood-control system, and ensure a stable power supply in Mindanao.
Zhao says China expects for an early implementation of these projects for the benefit of the Filipino people. He adds that Beijing and Manila are now working to draw up a guideline that would ensure transparency in carrying out the projects smoothly and in accordance with laws. “We will work together to enhance cooperation in areas such as trade and tourism,” he vows, adding that in 2016, bilateral trade between the two countries grew 3.4 percent to $47.2 billion, while China’s bilateral trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) slipped by 4.1 percent. He adds that last year, China had the third-largest number of citizens that visited the Philippines as tourists. “We expect 1 million Chinese-tourist arrivals in the Philippines by the end of 2017,” Zhao says.
As a great partner, Zhao says China is also prepared to strengthen cooperation with the Philippines in the fields of MSMEs or micro, small and medium enterprises, energy, and electronic products, among other business ventures. He adds, “We are actively exploring the possibility of establishing industrial parks in the Philippines, and we will send working groups to conduct feasibility studies …”
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Ambassador, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Philippines
HAVING served his country over the past 26 years, Zhao was a counsellor, deputy director-general at the Department of Asian Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), in Beijing, between 2003 and 2007, as well as at the Chinese embassy in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, in 2001. In 1999, he was First Secretary of the Chinese embassy in Thailand.
Zhao’s immediate-past assignment was in the Republic of Liberia.