Philippines and China; brothers in arms?

Duterte’s historic visit to China gives his country’s economy the $24 billion worth of trade deals, but at a price. Here’s exactly what the President brought back from Beijing.

By Yao Ying

President Duterte arrived in China on Oct 18 and spent four days in the country discussing various matters regarding the strengthening of ties between both countries.

Striking a landmark deal

Based on this new diplomacy drive, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin praised Duterte’s visit in a news conference, stating that the two countries had been able to sign thirteen bilateral agreements.

Liu Zhenmin also stated that the leaders of his country and the Philippines were able to meet and come to agreements over regional security, and increased economic partnership.

The visit by President Duterte may represent a crossroads in the restoration of cordial ties between the Philippines and China; it also marks an emerging mood of pragmatic cooperation which eases tensions around the South China Sea and promises increased dialogue and negotiation. Accordingly, Duterte’s visit was quite fruitful as he was able to sign off on $24 billion USD worth of business deals.

To breakdown what he walked away with, there is $9 billion in soft loans, including a $3 billion line of credit from the Bank of China. The remaining $15 billion will go towards development projects. Ramon Lopez, Secretary of Trade and industry for the Philippines confirmed one of the biggest deals ever, saying “preliminary agreements in railways, ports, energy and mining worth $11.2 billion were signed between Philippine and Chinese firms”.

Strengthening Sino-Filipino relations

China and the Philippines have also signed thirteen bilateral cooperation documents. They included trade deals, investments into infrastructure and construction, steps to combat drugs, and maritime cooperation and exchanges.

Moreover, Minister Liu Zhenmin has said that the Philippines will be invited to the next diplomatic, defence and security consultations, parliamentary exchanges and other forms of state cooperation. It seems Duterte, unlike his predecessors, has truly been able to restore cordial Sino-Philippine relations.

As an act of goodwill to the President, and the Filipino people, China has cancelled its travel warnings about going to the Philippines which were implemented during a period of strained relations a few years ago. Moreover, China will lift sanctions on 27 Filipino food producers, which export large quantities of tropical fruit. The agricultural sector is vital to the Philippines economy; where 30% of Filipinos are employed in agriculture. In this way, China’s removal of trade sanctions will help many impoverished Filipino farmers to once again sell their crops to the region’s largest market.

It seems China is now offering a strengthened commitment to the Philippines economy  through this series of bilateral trade deals, which will entail closer economic ties between the Philippines and Asia’s largest economy. Additionally, China has also supported the Philippines in participating in the Maritime Silk Road project, which will help the island nation be a part of a new regional economic initiative.

A most unexpected alliance

Duterte’s visit to China has been nothing short of a historic event which has shifted international attention to the newly formed partnership between two formerly estranged countries. Both China and the Philippines have agreed on a myriad of deals, ranging from economic cooperation, to regional security, and it seems that this unlikely relationship will continue to grow under Duterte’s presidency.

Subsequently, during a news conference in Beijing, President Duterte announced his “separation from the United States, both in military, not maybe social, but economics also. America has lost”. Accordingly, Duterte went on to say “I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way”.

Though Duterte has often been critical of the US, his recent statements have resonated throughout the world as an official split from the traditional US-Philippines alliance in favour of a proposed Russian-Chinese-Filipino trifecta. Despite their differences, all three of these countries have tainted human rights records.

Russia has been accused of land grabbing in Crimea, cracking down on dissents within its own country, and fuelling the humanitarian catastrophe in Aleppo. Meanwhile, China has been stifling the rights of its citizens online through censorship, as well as brutally suppressing any opposition to the government in Hong Kong and Xinjiang province. Additionally, Duterte’s war against drugs has led to a myriad of human rights atrocities – raising concerns from many human rights observers.