China is Duterte’s tool, not the other way around


The standard model of dissent against the apparent Chinese economic colonization of the Philippines is, ultimately, completely upside down, and it is, in fact, the Duterte regime that is to blame for environmental regulations and standards, social and economic being overridden when it comes to projects funded by China. Rather than Duterte being a flexible tool for the Chinese to increase their influence in the Philippines, it is Duterte who uses the Chinese to selectively strengthen his political interests by responding to those of the privileged regional and national political elite.

These are the findings of a revealing study published last week by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, written by Dr. Alvin Camba of the Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The well-researched document is primarily based on detailed field research conducted in the Philippines between 2018 and this year, including in-depth interviews with officials from the Department of Defense, Department of Finance, National Economic Authority. and development and other government officials.

It mainly focuses on two on-going expensive infrastructure projects, the controversial Kaliwa Dam project and the Chico River pump irrigation project, which illustrate how Chinese investments are being used for local political purposes. Other projects that are discussed in less detail include the Binondo-Intramuros and Estrella-Pantaleon bridge projects and China Telecom’s investment in DITO Telecommunity, as well as the already established presence of State Grid Corp. of China as the main shareholder of the National Grid Corp. from the Philippines.

Dr Camba’s argument, which is supported by other research on Chinese infrastructure and other investment projects in Sri Lanka, Africa and Latin America, is that China is not necessarily seeking “to relocate and to export Chinese technology, manpower and political conceptions to host countries, ”as most critics accuse, but the Chinese are just opportunistic about their business. The usual critics of China, Camba writes, “have little regard for the important nuances of place, time and politics, ignoring the extent to which host countries – such as local elites, members of civil society and standards – shape the design, implementation and results of land projects. “

He continues: “All over the world, Chinese companies have been very attentive to the will of local political elites, limiting or sometimes completely avoiding relations with opposition elites and links with members of civil society.

Regarding the Philippines in particular, Camba notes: “Under President Rodrigo Duterte, the political elites in the Philippines have pressed Chinese companies to accommodate some of their demands for political opportunity on infrastructure projects. keys. This trend is evident. the Kaliwa Dam and the Chico River Pump Irrigation Project – both of which made substantial progress during Duterte’s reign. In particular, Manila has bypassed local social and environmental regulations and paved the way for Chinese dam builders to quickly launch projects to strengthen the political position of the Duterte government.

“Duterte chose the Chinese fund which financed the projects to gain the support of the main local elites and maximize his political weight. Despite all the rhetoric, Japanese lenders remained the largest provider of foreign aid to the Philippines. However, choosing Japanese partners to fund them for two major projects could have derailed Duterte’s plans to use these projects to reward local elites, so he chose to work with more willing Chinese partners instead, ”says Camba. .

Japanese financing has generally been made available to the Philippines at lower interest rates and more flexible terms, but using Japanese financing – a Japanese consortium submitted a proposal for the Kaliwa Dam project which has been ostensibly ignored by the government, while the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) both offered to finance the Chico River project but were rejected – this would likely have delayed the completion beyond Duterte’s tenure due to stricter social and environmental standards. Duterte needed projects to be completed during his tenure to cement his legacy. “The interest rates of Chinese lenders, which were higher than the proposed Japanese rates, were not important to Duterte because a significant part of the repayment schedule will go to his successors,” Camba writes.

“In short, it is the Filipinos, and not the Chinese players, who have mostly set the agenda for these major infrastructure projects, except on a few specific contractual clauses,” the report continues. “The Philippines has asked Chinese lenders to cut interest rates and offer a higher local labor share on both projects. Still, Chinese negotiators insisted that details of the agreements be protected by nondisclosure conditions, that projects be excluded from Paris Club loan arrangements, and that Chinese workers receive higher wages. The nondisclosure agreements were then amended to allow the Philippine government to disclose the terms of the project under certain conditions.

Camba again emphasizes that, contrary to the opinion of most critics of Chinese investment activity, “the Philippine elites and agencies have driven the process of implementation. The contempt of the projects for social and environmental standards was instigated by the Duterte administration, and not by Chinese actors. Chinese government partners have largely followed the regime’s lead, which has led to the displacement and marginalization of local communities. “

It bears repeating that this is not at all unusual; China has followed the same pattern in almost every country where it has made substantial investments in infrastructure and development, and so perhaps the study’s most damning implication is that Duterte and his elite base are, after all, nothing more than stereotypical third parties. The rentier politicians of the world.

To what extent China itself can be blamed for taking advantage of local political situations for its own commercial gain is debatable, but the Camba report casts the Chinese in at least a slightly more favorable light and, in a sense, what they do. font is sublimely admirable: instead of aggressively pursuing economic and political domination, they achieve it and perhaps more by entirely passive means – an excellent concrete example of the old adage “Work smart, not hard”.

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Twitter: @benkritz

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