Sta. Romana: BRI offers broad prospects for China-Philippines cooperation

Jin Ling, Liu Mengya
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, 01 03, 2018

The Republic of the Philippines is an important partner for the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). During an exclusive interview with, Philippine’s Ambassador to China, Mr. Jose Santa Romana talked about the opportunities offered by the initiative to Philippine’s economic and social development, and cooperation between China and Philippine.

Philippine’s Ambassador to China, Mr. Jose Santa Romana Welcome Sir, thank you very much for granting us this interview. When welcoming Philippines President Duterte at the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May this year, President Xi Jinping observed that the Philippines is a friendly neighbor and important partner to China. So Sir, from your own perspective, what is the Philippines’ special role within the Belt and Road Initiative, and what should we do to achieve friendly, win-win cooperation and to eventually bring practical benefits to the peoples of our two countries?


Romana: Well, you hit the key point. We in the Philippines approach the Belt and Road Initiative from the point of view of how it will benefit, of course the Filipino people, and how it can benefit both the Chinese and the Filipino people, mutual benefit on the basis of sovereign equality. You see, we view the Belt and Road Initiative from the lens of convergence. The Belt and Road Initiative is a very broad concept, and from the Philippines’ point of view, we think there are areas of convergence, where the Philippine development plan, the government development plan, and the government priorities, where there are areas of convergence.

And we believe there’s also a broad area of convergence between the Belt and Road Initiative and ASEAN, on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Master Plan of Connectivity. So, because of this, we see that there are broad areas of possible cooperation that we can pursue.

And in this context, our interest is how we can leverage, you know, the Belt and Road Initiative, the Philippine Development Plan, the ASEAN Master Plan of Connectivity. How we can leverage this into concrete economic gains and projects, which will benefit not only China, the Philippines, and ASEAN, but all the countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative. The key point, however, the key emphasis is on connectivity, because this is where we see particular areas of interest. You know the infrastructure projects, there’s a great need for improving the infrastructure in the Philippines, there’s a great need of improving the infrastructure in Southeast Asia. And so this is an area where the interests are aligned, between China, the Philippines, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Thank you sir. As we know, with its unique geographical location, the Philippines is a very important node on the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, so within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, what needs to be done to strengthen, you know, strategic docking and policy communication, and thereby eventually to enhance developments between our two countries, let’s say in the areas of infrastructure, trade, agriculture, tourism, and education?


Romana: Well, those are specifically the broad areas where there can be a lot of cooperative projects, where there can be avenues through which we can pursue more cooperation.

And the concept of the Maritime Silk Road goes all the way to the Indian Ocean. So, from our perspective, the most important point is how to promote a Silk Road that will promote, you know, freedom of navigation, and unimpeded access, and promote further trade among the different countries, further investment, tourism, and people to people exchanges.

So we approach it through that angle, and it’s already happening, in the case of tourism. You know, over the past year, the number of tourists in the Philippines, Chinese tourists coming to the Philippines, has almost doubled. We experience it here in the Philippine Embassy, the number of visa applications is almost like a deluge, you know, there’s a deluge of visa applications, our consular section is actually somewhat overworked on this. But this is a good kind of problem to have. So, last year, we were able to achieve about 600 thousand Chinese visitors to the Philippines. Now, after October, it’s already 800 thousand, and the goal is to make it 1 million, perhaps by Chinese New Year, we can achieve this. And then next year, the goal is to achieve 1.3 million tourists from China. So, this is one concrete benefit of the people to people exchanges within the rubric of the Belt and Road Initiative. From our point of view, within the rubric of, you know, improving bilateral relations between our two countries. The saying is true that China now is the number two source of tourists for the Philippines, whereas before it was number three or number four. And we expect that at some point in the near future, perhaps in a year or two, China will be the top source of tourists to the Philippines.

In addition, trade – here you can see the benefits already happening, and we expect more of this. If you go around Beijing, you will see bananas, mangos, pineapples; other tropical fruits from the Philippines. And so there is again, this is like an upsurge of fruits from the Philippines coming to the Chinese market, and the potential is there for more growth.

In addition, infrastructure projects are now being rolled out in the Philippines. China has donatedtwo bridgesin the metroManila area, to cover the main river. And the goal of this is really to help alleviate traffic in our capital city, which has this major problem of being congested and a lot of traffic. And that work will start and hopefully in a year or two, it will be completed. In addition, next year, in 2018, I think two specific projects, a major Dam that will irrigate a big area in northern Philippines, and another dam that will provide the water supply to the capital region in Luzon, not too far from Manila, will be constructed. And, so these are the beginnings. There’s also a plan for the railway project, from Manila all the way to south of the Island of Luzon. So these, we consider as the first basket of projects under the rubric of the bilateral, under the framework of improving bilateral relations. Because it helps connectivity, because it helps in promoting bilateral relations, it also helps in giving concrete expression to the Belt and Road Initiative.

There’s now going to be discussion on the second batch of projects, most of which will be in the southern Philippines, in Mindanao, and in the Visaya. They are talking of building bridges, of building expressways, in Davao, in Mindanao, and the railway project. But, these are still under discussion, and we hope they can be, they would be ready by the time we get to 2019.

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