PH in the loop in China’s One Belt, One Road routes

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BEIJING: Although the Philippines is not on the two major routes in China’s One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, there are still “plenty of room for cooperation” between the two countries that would benefit Manila, a senior Chinese official said.

In the next 10 years, countries in the OBOR “will be very much improved,” Dr. Cao Yuanzheng told journalists attending a media workshop on the Belt and Road Initiative at the Tsinghua University PBC (People’s Bank of China) School of Finance here.

Asked if this means the Philippines would be lagging farther behind its rich neighbors in Asia and in the global economy, Yuanzheng, chairman of the Bank of China International (BOCI) Research Ltd., said this is not so.

“The Philippines is an important part of Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), and Asean is a very important area for One Belt, One Road which is not only in the 65 countries but beyond the areas in the routes,” said Yuanzheng, a part-time professor at Tsinghua University.

People’s Daily, China’s top media company, organized a four-day Asian Media Workshop with Tsinghua University in preparation for the 2017 Asian Media Forum on the BRI in Gansu province later this week.

OBOR is a China-led project that involves a series of elaborate infrastructure road and maritime routes that would link the economies of China and its neighbors to as far as eastern Europe, cutting across other Asian and Middle East countries.

“The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is just an idea. Anybody can join, even the United States,” Yuanzheng said in his lecture on BRI and the rise of a great economic power. “The One Belt, One Road is only an initiative. If you’re up to the challenge, we need cooperation. We sit down and talk.”

The BRI is a pet project of Chinese President Xi Jinping to connect Asian and European markets by pouring around $900 billion into infrastructure projects such as railways, ports, and power grids to promote free trade and integrate the economies across Asia and parts of eastern Europe.

Under the BRI, there is a Silk Road Economic Belt that connects China through Central Asia, Russia to Europe (Baltic Sea) on two corridors: through Central Asia, West Asia to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean; and to Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Indian Ocean. There is also a 21st-century Maritime Silk Road that starts from the Chinese coastal ports to Europe through the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.

The North-West Silk Road will pass through China, Burma (Myanmar), Bangladesh and India while the South-West route will cut across China and Pakistan to the Middle East.

Yuanzheng said the countries along the Belt and Road route are all at important stages of industrialization and urbanization.

“After the implementation of the BRI, in the next 10 years or so, the region’s share in the global GDP is expected to reach 35 percent,” he said. “BRI is expected to become one of the new economic growth powerhouses along with North America and Western Europe, changing the future world economic map.”

Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez earlier said that the Duterte administration’s P9-trillion “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program over the next five years dovetails with the revival of China’s maritime silk route. He had said it would open new markets for Philippine products in Beijing’s planned corridor between China and the Middle East and Europe.

In March this year, the Philippines and China exchanged letters for the feasibility studies of two infrastructure projects in the country—the Panay-Guimaras-Negros Bridges Project and the Davao City Expressway Project.

The “Build, Build, Build” program, launched in April this year, entails the construction of at least 75 major infrastructure projects intended to boost employment opportunities and create an environment conducive to investors.

The government had said that 2018 will be the Philippines’ golden age of infrastructure as it appropriates P900 billion for the construction of new roads, bridges, railways, and airports to improve the country’s competitiveness.

Yuanzheng said the non-inclusion of the Philippines from the direct routes of the Belt and Road and Maritime Silk routes had nothing to do with the territorial dispute over parts of the South China Sea between the two countries.

“This is not a black and white game. This is a mutual benefit game,” he said, stressing that China is neither dictating nor dominating over the countries involved. He said it will involve the integration of all countries participating through negotiations and compromises for their mutual benefits.

But all these, he said, must begin by building roads and bridges to connect the countries and their economies.

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