Is China’s one belt, one road initiative impacting enough on PH development?

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

To begin answering the question, here’s an analysis, or so it says it is, of China’s One Belt, One Road initiative which we came across on the web.

It’s easy to laugh at the sheer cheesiness of the promotional campaign for the “Belt and Road Forum” in Beijing.

“In one video released in the run-up to the meeting, a father reads his rapt daughter a bedtime story about President Xi Jinping’s infrastructure plan. In another, a group of children express “gratitude” for the $900 billion initiative: ‘The future’s coming now/the Belt and Road is how,’ they sing.

“The videos are so cringe-inducing, so ridiculously saccharine, that they are almost funny. But you know who is also chuckling? Xi Jinping.


“The Belt and Road Forum is a projection of Chinese power, yes, but it is also a vivid display of the power of Chinese propaganda — a lesson in what happens when truths, half-truths and state-sanctioned talking points, mixed and repeated, begin to pass as fact.”

As analysis, of course, the words are so opinion-laden that when they turn to be satirical they become in effect themselves biases “passed as truths.”

This criticism of a Chinese splurge in propaganda on the OBOR serves notice to this column that nothing similar seems to be true in the Philippine milieu. President Rodrigo Duterte’s attendance at the Belt and Road Forum in Beijing last week did get some good mileage in the local media but not in a manner as to advance China’s OBOR propaganda objective. If at all, the President’s participation in the international economic forum is ventilated largely for its dynamics as “Dutertenomics,” hardly not as an offshoot of China’s belt and road program.

So is the Philippines, therefore, not being groomed as a major beneficiary of OBOR in league with, for instance, Pakistan which enjoys a hefty $50 billion share of the total $113 billion OBOR fund?

The reason for that fat OBOR allocation for Pakistan cannot be overemphasized. Through that country runs the transit pathway that will link western China to a new deep-water port at Gwadar. This pathway, the Karakorum Highway that cuts across the highly-disputed Kashmir region, is a high-altitude transport corridor which one account describes thus: “…the 20th-century blueprint for the Belt and Road Initiative. The highway was built by China and Pakistan, beginning back in 1959. It opened in 1979.”

Through Pakistan, the Belt and Road that starts from China extends into the subcontinent of Asia’s land and water, through to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. From the Philippine-BRICS Strategic Studies group (Ph-BRICS) comes this more apt description of China’s OBOR: “This gargantuan and growing market (the reference to China) is linking itself to the rest of the world by railways, road, telecommunication highways from China to Europe and maritime ports from Europe through the Indian Ocean back to Asia and China across the China Sea, and future links stretching over to the Pacific and Oceania – bringing to and fro, serving export and import needs of every country along the route.”

It would seem that OBOR attitude toward Pakistan is best quantified as a tit-for-tat affair in the Chinese world economic juggernaut. Its allocation from the overall budget is necessarily proportionate to the concrete contribution it lends to the initiative. Pro-west leaning analysts have already gone as far as worrying that Pakistan may have opened a door that it could no longer close. Plainly stated, it means Pakistan may be so deeply indebted to China that it would no longer be possible for it to get off China’s apron strings.

But then again, such worry is a rehash of fears that China’s dominating the world economically is an evil thing. Those fears must be double-edged. China lording it over the rest of world economies is necessarily evil for similar powers having the same ambition. For recipients of China’s developmental assistance, particularly the small economies of Asia and Africa, OBOR can only be manna from heaven.

In this regard, I recall here what I have written in an earlier column:

“As of last data obtained from South China Morning Post as released by China’s State Council, the country has given about 400 billion yuan (HK$450 billion) in development aid over the past six decades to 166 countries and international organizations.

“According to AidData, a research unit at the College of William & Mary in the United States that tracks more than US$40 trillion in development aid, a disproportionate share of Chinese development projects showed up in politically privileged areas – specifically the birth regions of African leaders and their spouses. The average African leader’s birth region is said to have received roughly three times as much (195 per cent more) financial support from China during the leader’s time in power. The research unit claims to have collected data on 117 African leaders’ birthplaces and ethnic groups and geocoded 1,955 Chinese development finance projects across 3,553 locations in Africa from 2000 to 2012.”

What can be so evil about an initiative that aims to bring development to even the poorest of the world’s poor? It can be evil only to those whose exploitative designs on struggling economies can no longer prosper against China’s determined aim of bringing full fruition to its belt and road initiative.

According to the Philippine-BRICS Strategic Studies group, China’s OBOR planetary economic plan is a game-changer in the current global economic slowdown, as the United States of America, once the market-of-last-resort for the world to sell its goods to, looks inwards to heal its wound, as reflected by President Donald Trump’s “America First Policy.” As a consequence of that policy, China stands as the one single alternative to America’s now dwindling glory. In contrast, China opens up to the world a consumer market five times larger than that of the US and whose purchasing power still has to realize its prime potential.

PH-BRICS advises: “The Philippines must not miss this opportunity today offered by OBOR, as it did in the 80s when Asian and Asean countries transitioned to ‘Tiger Economies’ but the country wallowed in the mire of political turmoil and misinformed economic theories. Today we read and hear a chaos of opinions from the usual suspects questioning Dutertenomics and the OBOR opportunities, but the nation has learned from its past – the Philippines is already on board!”

How “on board” seems propped up by the package of assistance brought home by President Duterte from the OBOR summit in Beijing as well as from bilateral meet with President Xi Jinping in the amount of P3.6 billion, which includes CNY 500 million for the construction of two more bridges across the Pasig River, as earlier announced by Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua. The package is likewise on top of $25-billion agreements on economic cooperation signed a few months ago during the visits of China’s Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan and Vice Premier Wang Yang. The agreements involved China’s purchase of Philippine bananas and other foodstuff worth $1.7 billion and the doubling of Chinese tourists arrivals in the Philippines from 500,000 last year to a breach of 1,000,000 this year. In a computation I made in an earlier column, those many Chinese tourists will contribute P21 billion to the Philippine economy.

From the looks of it, China has delivered on its commitment to assist the Duterte administration in carrying out its own ambitious plans for the country. It is to the President’s discredit that his deadly illegal drugs war has incurred the condemnation of most of the powerful institutions of the west, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations. At the Geneva convention on extrajudicial killings, about the only big world power that has defended the Duterte drugs war was China, proving its commitment to assist the Philippine President on all fronts of world affairs – economic, political, and, presumably if need be, military.

Just the other day, the European Union confirmed the President’s rejection of grants normally enjoyed by the Philippines from the Union totaling 258 million euros ($278 million) as a reaction to the Union’s criticism of his deadly war on drugs. Earlier in the year, the United States withdrew its own regular financial grant, the Millennial Challenge Fund, amounting to millions of dollars that are a main provider for the wellspring of the country’s dollar reserve. Side by side with these grants from the west, how does the Chinese financial assistance –actually investment – compare? Nothing much, as simple arithmetic will bear out. It is the collateral concessions the Philippines must make to the donor nation that truly count. In the case of the US, those concessions by the Philippines come mainly in the form of onerous military agreements, like the continuing Military Defense Agreement (MDA), the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). In this respect, China tops the US by many rungs — it demands no such military strings attached for its aid. The EU, being a close ally of the US, necessarily gains also from these military agreements by which the Philippines is tied to the west, aside from other advantages it may on its own achieve for itself from relationship with the Philippines.

The question now boils down to what will the Philippines gain from its pivot from the west to China? Can China be as benevolent to the Philippines as it is to Pakistan, and what factors will determine the extent of such benevolence? The issues are manifold and too intertwined to be readily untangled from one another. For now, it should suffice that with the US held at bay in its designs on the Asia Pacific region, the Philippines stands to gain, not lose, in flowing with the Chinese tide of world economic domination.

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1 Comment

  1. Amnata Pundit on

    Excellent article ! May I add that this Asian-European-African integration is the biggest existential threat to the American-led Western empire. If you will look at the globe, all the English speaking western nations are separated from it by sea, although the North Americans can knock on bended knees if necessary on Russia’s Siberian corridor, assuming they can find the money to build that corridor when the American dollar has already fallen from its mighty loft as the world’s preferred reserve currency. Can World War 3 stop this threatening development? The crazies in charge of America seem to think so. Lets hope the the clear thinking faction prevails in that nut house of an empire.