Pacts signed with China just ‘continuation’ of past agreements, analysts say

Pacts signed with China just �continuation� of past agreements, analysts say
President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. met with his counterpart, President Xi Jinping, during a state visit to China from January 3 to 5, 2023.
Office of the Press Secretary Handout

MANILA, Philippines — There is nothing new with the agreements with China that the administration has signed and that being touted by the government, analysts said, as opposition lawmakers call for these deals to be made public and subject to scrutiny.

Even before the Philippine delegation flew to China on Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs in a briefing said they were expecting 14 bilateral agreements to be signed during President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s first state visit this year. 

"Some of the 14 agreements signed by the Philippines and China in the current trip of Marcos Jr. to Beijing are either revivals or continuations of unfulfilled accords from previous administrations,” Chester Cabalza, founder and president of the International Development and Security Cooperation, told Philstar.com on Thursday. 

Meanwhile, Mark Manantan, director of cybersecurity and critical technologies at the Pacific Forum International, said the administration’s first foreign trip of the year lacks "a strong message from Marcos."

This includes the awaited affirmation of the 2016 arbitration ruling, which has invalidated China’s sweeping nine-dash claims that included portions of the West Philippine Sea. It also affirmed that part of the sea is in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

Marcos Jr., in his arrival speech on Thursday evening, said meetings with his counterpart Chinese President Xi Jinping and other high-ranking officials were "cordial and fruitful." 

The chief executive said he was able to talk to Xi about the West Philippine Sea issue, noting that neither country wants to make it a point of contention when it comes to other fields of discussion. 

Marcos Jr. said he told Xi of the Philippines' plan to pursue an independent foreign policy and also touted the communication agreement signed to allow high-level talks when it comes to maritime issues.

"I would have expected a firm dialogue bringing up the latest artificial island build up in the Spratlys," Manantan told Philstar.com on Thursday afternoon.

READ: Philippines ‘concerned’ over report on China’s construction activities in Spratlys

What is the basis of the WPS hotline?

Cabalza raised that putting these maritime concerns at a welcome "high-level talk" is yet to be tested. The maritime hotline was originally crafted from coast guard diplomacy in 2017, but it was a "failure on the ground."

"In between five years, the Philippines witnessed pronounced maritime and naval skirmishes ... that the Philippine government had to resort to massive diplomatic protests," he said.

READ: Philippines, China to establish direct lines to ease tensions over sea row

Meanwhile, Manantan questioned the basis of the signed communication pact, saying "China ignores the arbitral ruling so what will be the basis of discussion or deliberation?"

"I expected President Marcos to be firmer given the strong assurances that the US has given the country marked by high diplomatic visits from US Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and even his meeting with President Joe Biden," Manantan said. 

"It is not anymore a question of being pro-US, but really making it clear what is our stand given the deteriorating geostrategic climate."

READ: Poll: 84% of Filipinos want to leverage US partnership for WPS defense

But considering recent engagements with the US, Cabalza believes China is now more likely to fulfill its obligations to the Philippines because of regional competition.

14 agreements

Based on the document joint statement of the Philippines and China, which the DFA shared with reporters on Thursday, the two countries signed the following cooperation documents:

  • MOU on cooperation on the belt and road initiative
  • Arrangement on the establishment of a communication mechanism on maritime issues 
  • MOU on a Development Cooperation Plan for 2023 to 2025
  • MOU on an Electronic Commerce Cooperation
  • MOU on Digital and Information and Communications Technology Cooperation
  • Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation 
  • Joint Action Plan on Agricultural and Fisheries Cooperation
  • Implementation Program for the MOU on Tourism Cooperation 
  • Protocol of Phytosanitary Requirements for the export of fresh durians from the Philippines
  • Mutual Recognition Arrangement on the Authorized Economic Operator Program
  • Framework on the provision of a concessional loan by China to the Philippines
  • Four loan agreements for a mixed-credit financing of three priority bridges
  • Handover certificate of the Sino-Philippine Center for Agricultural Technology-Technical Cooperation Program Phase III
  • Two China-aid bridges project 

"It would be interesting what the digital cooperation will look like considering the growing presence of Chinese ICT investments in the country not to mention the active presence of Chinese state-sponsored hackers gathering geopolitical intel across government agenicies," Manantan said. 

Transparency on deals

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III and House Deputy Minority leader Rep. France Castro (ACT Teachers’ Party-list) called for further transparency on the details of the cooperation agreements.

"We hope that the 14 deals signed in China would be nothing like the Kaliwa and Chico river dam deal  which contains provisions limiting the contractors to Chinese companies and disqualifying Filipinos, imposing a confidentiality clause, requiring the Philippines to waive any defense on the basis of sovereignty over its patrimonial assets, and imposing that any disputes shall be resolved by a Chinese tribunal in China and Hongkong using Chinese laws," Castro said. — with reports from James Relativo and Xave Gregorio

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