Two countries to cooperate in South China Sea
China and the Philippines are stepping up efforts to accelerate a dozen large-scale infrastructure projects in the Southeast Asian country and the launch of some projects will kick off in 2018, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said on Saturday.
With bilateral relations becoming warm in an all-round way, economic and investment cooperation between the two countries has seen stable development, Zhao said, noting that "the two have signed a slew of agreements over Chinese support for Philippine infrastructure construction."
In April 2017, the Philippine government proposed a large-scale infrastructure investment plan. According to the plan, the Philippines will invest 8.4 trillion pesos ($168 billion) in infrastructure, including roads, bridges, airports and ports.
This plan is essential for the Philippines to develop its economy and support its fast-growing population since the country is weak in terms of infrastructure and energy, Zhuang Guotu, head of Xiamen University's Southeast Asian Studies Center, told the Global Times on Sunday.
Asked why the Philippines has sought support from China, Zhuang said that "China's infrastructure capability leads the world and as a result many countries and regions are willing to cooperate with China. Besides, China is willing to provide loans, labor and expertise to help the Philippines."
According to a report published on the official website of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade in November 2017, China has provided loans and grants totaling $7.34 billion to the Philippines for the construction of 10 large-scale infrastructure projects, including two bridges in Metro Manila.
Paying back its debts is not a problem for the Philippines, according to Zhuang. "The interest rate on the loans China has provided to the Southeast Asian country is very low. And the Philippines has strong debt-paying ability. Besides, the loans are usually accompanied by repayment agreements, which use certain natural resources as collateral."
On Thursday, the Philippines announced it was in talks with a Chinese State-owned enterprise to jointly explore oil and gas in the South China Sea, in a proposed deal described by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as similar to "co-ownership," AFP reported.
"The two countries are carrying out close negotiations [over joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea]. It's very likely they are making first-phase preparations while discussing it," Zhuang said.
"In fact, discussions about joint exploration started in the 1970s, but it didn't come about for various reasons. This time, the negotiations came after the Philippines had long been troubled by energy shortages. Joint exploration is significant for the Sino-Philippine relationship as it would mark a new phase in resolving their South China Sea disputes," he said.
New golden period
The bilateral relationship between China and the Philippines has entered a new golden era, Zhao said, and there have already been some big achievements.
China was the second-largest source of tourists visiting the Philippines in 2017, with the figure rising 43.3 percent year-on-year to 968,000, data from the Philippine tourism department showed in January.
Meanwhile, China maintained its ranking as the Philippines' top trade partner for the second year running in 2017, with the figure at $51.28 billion, up 8.6 percent year-on-year, according to data from the Chinese customs.
Joining in with the establishment of industrial parks is a good way for Chinese companies to invest in the Southeast Asian country, as it helps improve local infrastructure facilities and create jobs, said Bai Ming, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation in Beijing.
"The launch of industrial parks is expected to attract a group of companies within an industry chain and thus overcome the disadvantages for a single company in investing overseas," Bai told the Global Times.
In addition, China's Belt and Road initiative, which focuses not only on trade but also infrastructure investment and industrial capacity cooperation, will create more opportunities for the economic development of the Philippines, according to Bai.