THIS weekend, Premier Li Keqiang will be arriving for high-level talks at the Asean summit which opened yesterday at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC). It will be a week capped by China-friendly activities of groups desiring to contribute to crystalizing the issues that he will be addressing at the forum. In this regard, the past week may have provided the Li mission with an auspicious start.
To begin with, how does Premier Li surmount a strong sentiment that China is on an aggression drive against the Philippines? A war hysteria among Filipinos against China had been fanned at the height of the Scarborough standoff in 2012, and it hasn’t quite died down. In the widely perceived destabilization moves by the Tindig Pilipinas (which President Rodrigo Duterte has labeled as the alleged handiwork of the CIA in cahoots with the “Yellows,” a term for the Liberal Party), China is being depicted in common with Duterte, evidently calculated at downing the former as well in the event the latter is overthrown. In this context, it is easy to understand why in its effort to overthrow President Duterte, the CIA must consistently link him to the Chinese. Thus, the continuous emphasizing side by side with anti-Duterte protests of the Chinese military buildup in the disputed South China Sea region.
A “Philippine-China Economic Forum: Towards A Philippine Inclusive Growth” held last Monday at the Tower Club in Makati, organized by the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS) and the Integrated Development Studies Institute (IDSI), led by George Siy, IDSI president and founding chair of Anvil Business Club, discussed the full impact of Chinese presence in Philippine economic development.
Director Hazel Irish S. Baliatan, public investment OIC at the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) reviewed the development taken by the bilateral economic relationship between China and the Philippines in the first year of the Duterte administration. Her revelations truly amaze: China has grown to be the largest trading partner of the Philippines. These revelations served to affirm the view earlier expressed by Dr. Tina Clemente, the PACS president and associate professor at the University of the Philippines Asian Center, that it is an anomaly that bilateral China-Philippine relations are being dominated by security and political concerns – to the neglect of economics.
Clemente pointed out that with the lifting of 800 million Chinese from poverty and the surge of the Chinese economy to second largest in the world, it would be utterly negligent for the Philippines not to seize upon the golden opportunities China offers in this respect.
In other words, it is economic sabotage for Philippine policymakers to stress the concerns of security and politics (i.e., the resolution of the South China Sea conflict “within the four corners of the PCA ruling”) in dealing with China – when the greater concern the Philippines must seize upon is the immense economic development the nation can avail of in China’s various areas of economic assistance to neighbors in the Asean.
While Asean members Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam already have on track China-assisted big development projects over the past six years, the Philippines only has the ongoing advancements in the export of agricultural products and tourism, with China aid in big infrastructure development still way off the take-off stage.
Why is this so?
Because unlike most of the Asean nations that took advantage of Chinese assistance early on, the Philippines under the previous Benigno S. Aquino 3rd administration dwelt on nothing but the assertion of sovereignty in the South China Sea dispute. Such a posture succeeded only in incurring Chinese animosity to such an extent as to draw the ire of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao. Reacting to an Obama aside at the 2012 East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia, Wen said, China was not a war-hungry nation but neither was it one to back away from a fight when pushed against the wall. In no mean words, the premier warned that the Philippines would learn this lesson “to its cost.”
In all the six years of the Aquino administration, the Philippines suffered at what cost: the greatest delay among the Asean nations in the implementation of aid already programmed by China.
The unilateral action by the Aquino administration, evidently under compass by the Obama government, in bringing the South China dispute for settlement by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at the Hague, certainly constituted one particularly hard push of China against the wall. It could not but, as Wen Jiabao declared, fight back.
China ordered a total ban on importation of agricultural products from the Philippines, the banana industry being the greatest sufferer. At the same time, a ban was imposed on the travel of Chinese tourists to the Philippines. Tourism being a major contributor to the Philippine economy, China’s travel ban was a telling blow to the country’s GDP. How much the Philippine economy declined in that period may be gleaned from figures cited in the forum last Monday. According to Dr. John Paolo Rivera, Associate Director of the Asian Institute of Management Center for Tourism, China is now the world’s largest outbound tourist market. After Duterte’s visit to China in October last year in which he succeeded in getting the ban lifted, Chinese tourist arrivals in the country reached a total of 670,000, still behind those from the United States who numbered 870,000 and Korea, some 1.4 million. But China itself programs more than a million tourist arrivals in the Philippines in 2017 – almost the entire 117 million yearly Chinese tourists.
As I have written before, that will mean one truly whopping windfall. Computed at an average of P3,659 per day tourist expenditure, tourism department estimates one million Chinese tourists in 2017 will pump into the economy P3.6 billion a day, or for an average of six days’ stay per tourist, P21 billion, plus other projected Chinese contributions to Philippine revenues in 2017.
It was revealed at the forum that China has already topped all other nations in terms of per capita expenditure. This means Chinese tourists in the Philippines spend more individually than tourists coming form any other nation.
Tourism certainly forms one solid ground for Premier Li standing pat on pursuing the economic approach to resolving China’s irritants with the Philippines.
(To be concluded tomorrow)