One interesting thing about the current administration in the Philippines is that, when it swept to power, it was on a platform (among others) of non-corruption. How is it possible to reconcile this with the recent pivot to China and the encouragement of Chinese firms to invest in the country? While I’m not suggesting that either the Chinese or Philippine administrations are corrupt, the Chinese do have a track record of not playing fair, especially when developing nations and lots of money is involved.
It has recently emerged that two of the firms that pledged new investments in the Philippines during Mr Duterte’s trip to the People’s Republic have been previously involved in activities which relate directly to the Philippines that some people may find somewhat unpalatable. The two firms to which I refer are China Road and Bridge Corp and CCCC dredging.
China Road and Bridge was involved in the North Rail Project, a failed infrastructure project which ended up resulting in 10 years of arbitration between the Philippines and the Chinese that were involved in it. CCCC on the other hand has apparently been involved in the building of artificial islands in the Spratlys – something which Mr Duterte also campaigned very hard against.
China Road and Bridge is currently engaged in disputes in Kenya where they are involved in a project to connect Mombasa and Nairobi with a standard guage railway. CRBC stands accused in the African nation of illegally dredging beaches for construction materials, summarily dismissing workers and failing to provide a safe working environment.
CCCC Dredging has been working on disputed territories in the South China Sea on behalf of the Chinese governmetn
Quite aside from this the company has also been banned by the World Bank from participating in any bank funded project. The reason for the ban? The company was found to have colluded with several others in bidding for first phase of the Philippine National Roads Improvement and Management Program.
It is one thing for the current administration to pivot away from traditional allies and attempt to build stronger connections with regional partners. This is a good policy in many ways (although some of the trademark angry rhetoric could have been left out). That said it is entirely another to form commercial relationships with firms that have a history of abusing the Philippines for financial gain. To invite companies that have not only previously engaged in corrupt practices within Philippine borders but who have even been involved in the construction of the islands in the Spratlys to have another bite of the apple doesn’t seem like firm policy to me.
A word two on Sun Tzu
Sun Tzu, the legendary Chinese general and author of the Art of War said “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Arguably this is exactly what China is doing. Beijing’s modus operandi when dealing with a developing nation is to sweeten things with money. That’s how they’ve managed to “own” large tracts of Africa. They promise foreign investment and access to huge amounts of debt. While there’s nothing wrong with that strategy what you have to look at is their endgame.
China has no interest in large scale infrastructure projects in the Philippines, they’ve made that clear in the past (remember the North Rail project). What China does have an interest in is energy and resources to fuel a rapidly growing nation which is on economically shaky ground. Where can it find those resources? In the South China Sea.
By placating the Philippines with promises of infrastructure and granting the Philippines “fishing rights” in the Philippines own territory China has secured the vast natural resources that the Philippines owns. Natural resources which are worth far more than a few billion dollars in loans and some railways that may well never actually get built.
The Italians have a saying. “When you pass a jar of honey, you lick your fingers” – The Philippines is that jar of honey and China has a long history of jamming its digits in its gob. Then again, so does everyone else. That aside it is the sworn duty of the president to protect the sovereignty of the nation and one has to wonder why he seems so intent on selling it down the river.