Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has forsaken the U.S. for China and Russia.
“America has lost … I have separated from them. So I will be dependent on you for all time,” Duterte said to a Chinese audience Thursday.
In return, China offered the Philippines $9 billion in soft loans, part of a package of deals worth $13.5 billion. The two parties signed 13 cooperation agreements covering everything from maritime security to infrastructure development to agricultural projects.
As the Philippines’ relationship with the U.S. crumbles, China is heralding the “highly successful” meetings as symbols of the “full recovery of bilateral relations” between China and the Philippines.
China invited the Philippines to become a part of its Belt and Road initiative, a massive project involving the creation of a land-based Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB) and a 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road (MSR). This project puts China at the heart of an enormous international trade network which could one day be worth trillions.
“China welcomes and supports Philippines participation in the building of the Maritime Silk Road,” said Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin. “China will take an active part in the infrastructure development in the Philippines and provide financing support to the Philippines.”
Experts expect Duterte’s pivot to China to yield significant benefits for the Philippines.
“We expect President Rodrigo Duterte’s tilt toward friendlier relations with China will provide a boost to the Philippines’ infrastructure industry as Chinese construction and financing agreements help fulfill his plans for a ‘Golden Age of Infrastructure’ in the country,” BMI Research, a Fitch Group Company, explained in a report released Tuesday.
Duterte hopes to boost infrastructure construction with investments of $144 billion between now and 2022. Chinese financial promises will help the Philippines realize this goal and achieve growth.
China has also committed $15 million to the building of drug rehabilitation centers in the Philippines. While the U.S. has been highly critical of Duterte’s drug war, China has been very supportive.
For China, the incentives are obvious. The breakdown of one of America’s oldest alliances in the Asia Pacific weakens American influence and affords China more regional power.
The Obama administration has downplayed Duterte’s comments and stressed that it encourages regional state actors to establish strong ties to China.
“We don’t consider this a zero-sum game,” explained White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz, “We believe that it’s in our national security interest when our partners and allies in the region have strong relationships with China, consistent with international norms.”
“We want to continue this relationship, we’re committed to this relationship, and we’re committed to the alliance between the two countries, that’s what we want,” U.S. Ambassador Philip Goldberg said in response to the Philippine president’s calls for “separation,” according to the Manila Bulletin.
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