July 21, 2019
First of 2 Parts
Foreign affairs policy does not have to be zero-sum
Simultaneous engagement — involving productive activity and diplomatic and intelligent negotiations, where the different sides all have something to gain while in dispute, without giving up claims — has been shown through history as statistically the approach that yields the best long-term benefit.
Today, Vietnam’s biggest investor is China, despite recent incidents of violence between them — including a Vietnamese government response that involved sending a large, high-level contingent to China immediately after one incident.
The United States remains Vietnam’s biggest market and political ally, despite their history of war — the Vietnam War — resulting in millions of Vietnamese getting killed and deformed.
Our Asean neighbors, despite regional disagreements, send thousands of students to China to study and learn from the Chinese.
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte’s independent foreign policy is founded on the wisdom of “development is peace; peace is development.”
While sustaining relations with established partners, notably the US, Japan and Europe, the Philippines has expanded all-round engagements with Asean member-states, China, Russia, Israel, India and other countries.
Expanding economic partnerships
After President Duterte’s first state visit to China, which secured billions of pesos of support for the Philippines’ Build, Build, Build program, the active participation of the private sector and foreign partners, including Japan, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Europe and the US followed suit.
Within three years, this administration has been able to secure 17 highly concessional loan agreements for big-ticket infrastructure projects. All of this comes at a time when the debt-to-GDP (gross domestic product) ratio of the country has reached 41.9 percent, indicating prudent levels of loans.
Rising foreign investment
This highlights the level of trust in the country’s growth story, with inflows in the past two years exceeding $20 billion each year. Net foreign direct investment rose to $9.8 billion in 2018 from $1.1 billion previously.
No China invasion; but Philippines globalizing
Duterte’s foreign policy has been criticized as a pivot to China, discounting the fact that such linkage, especially the people-to-people aspect, has managed disputes and allowed other aspects of the relations such as cooperation, market building and their economies to thrive.
China became the country’s biggest trade partner in 2016 and is now on track to becoming its biggest tourism market this year. Stalled for over a decade, Chinese lending to the Philippines materialized with concessional loans granted for dam and irrigation projects intended to create 15,000 jobs and provide for the development needs of the country for decades.
China also donated to the Philippines’ construction of major rehabilitation facilities, school buildings in the poorest communities and new bridges worth $100 million; forgiving debt payment of another $100 million.
(Delays in project implementation are largely traced to domestic processes, unsettled engineering standards, rights of way, and politics. With its growing projects worldwide, China has shown that funding and construction capability are not an issue.)
More employment for Filipinos created
Although some Chinese workers are employed locally for their special skills, far more jobs are created for Filipinos by the Chinese-funded projects. There is also a wave of Overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) being recruited back to the country, especially those with Mandarin skills.
Thousands of Filipino engineers are now being trained by Chinese companies each year. One Chinese company alone has hired 17,000 Filipino teachers to teach English to Chinese kids online and plans to hire 100,000 more.
Listed companies declare hundreds of billions of pesos in additional rent and sales a year to the Chinese, not counting the hundred billion more from Chinese tourists expected this year, which should redound to the direct benefit of local livelihoods (if we are to be more enterprising and able to upgrade our offerings).
Protecting OFWs and promoting their welfare is one of the three core pillars of Philippine foreign policy. Along this line, more than ever before, abused and imprisoned overseas Filipino workers are being rescued, provided legal support and repatriated with improved and systematic interventions.
Duterte himself touches base with Filipino communities during his foreign trips. A bilateral labor agreement has been signed with Kuwait. Last week, Duterte signed a law creating social welfare attachés for overseas Filipinos and is pushing for the establishment of a department for OFWs.
Achievements and security in the West Philippine Sea
The armed forces, coast guard and police are building greater capacity, new assets are underway, salaries and benefits are boosting morale and preparedness. Our facilities in the Kalayaan Islands are being improved and long-running defense cooperation with allies is kept while new ones are being established.
While incidents in the West Philippine Sea continue to raise concerns, they are being managed through bilateral and regional channels, regular consultations, hotline communications, confidence-building measures, development of and negotiations for an effective Code of Conduct.
In understanding the longstanding maritime row, context is important. It is a decades-old six-way sovereignty, political and resource access issues compounded by concerns of other powers. Hence, efforts to manage incidents are made to ensure they do not affect overall ties between claimants and decelerate positive momentum toward dispute management.
Renowned international policy analyst Mark J. Valencia says that President Duterte succeeded in maintaining relations with both Beijing and Washington to the country’s benefit, and “amid the China-US rivalry, Asean finds a role model in Duterte’s Philippines.”
Despite risks and uncertainties, opportunities continue to abound. The Philippines is rated among the world’s top investment destinations, attracting cooperation in education, skills upgrading, manufacturing and science and technology. Historical injustices are being mended as seen in the return of the Balangiga bells after almost a century.
No man is an island
Cooperation transcends borders and time. While differences remain and should be properly handled, they should neither consume all our energies nor define our overall relations with neighbors. Instead, we should continue expanding areas of confluence where we can work together for shared benefit. This thinking should guide our leaders and people as we steer our country to peace and progress, as well as inclusive advance for Filipinos.
IDSI is the Integrated Development Studies Institute. IDSI Corner aims to present frameworks based on a balance of economic theory, historical realities, ground success in real business and communities, and attempt for common good, culture, and spirituality. We welcome logical feedback and possibly working together with compatible frameworks (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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