EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

They won’t say it in public but Filipino businessmen, including those behind some of the sprawling conglomerates in the country, are becoming increasingly worried over growing tensions between the Philippines and China.

There are rumblings in the business community, say well-placed sources, with some business people quietly appealing to those in power to “de-escalate the situation.”

Businessmen – whether Filipino or Chinese – just want to do business. They want a stable environment where they can just go about their usual business operations and expansion.

Unfortunately, some of them have operations in China or are eyeing to expand there. The heightened geopolitical tensions aren’t helping them, sources said.

Some are in talks with Chinese investors and suppliers and they are worried that the tensions may cloud these potential business deals.

The rumblings are real, sources say, and many are pushing for more “peaceful means” to end the conflict or to at least prevent it from escalating.

In short, they just want to continue doing business with their Chinese partners in “a stable and peaceful environment.”

It’s the reason that some of them preferred the foreign policy of the Duterte administration, saying that the situation was more “peaceful” at the time. China recently claimed that it had a “gentleman’s agreement” with the former president to “manage the conflict.”

True or not, this so-called agreement merely delayed the inevitable. The bigger question of how to resolve the issue remains unanswered.

Thus, we are where we are today. Tensions have escalated and we are seeing more water cannon incidents from Chinese vessels against our fishermen and the Philippine Coast Guard.

Clearly, ex-president Duterte and President Marcos’ foreign policies are starkly different.

Marcos has been roaming the world to rally the support of allies in dealing with China’s aggressive behavior in the disputed seas.

More than having these big brothers on our side though, I hope that Marcos’ move would strengthen the economy’s resilience in the event of a full-blown conflict with China, which in turn could affect supply chains, exports, tourism, etc.

Technology and supply chains

One of the concerns of worried businessmen, say my sources, is the vulnerability of our supply chains in case the situation with China turns into a full-blown conflict.

It’s good that the Philippines, the United States and Japan have concluded a historical trilateral summit.

As I discussed in my previous column, the three countries have agreed to work together in the face of growing global challenges.

This would hopefully help build our supply chain resilience because, as some Filipino businessmen fear, tensions with China have made our supply chains vulnerable.

Toward this end, we need hefty investments to come in and help expand our local industries.

Marcos is banking on our allies for support.

President Biden’s recent ““Presidential Trade and Investment Mission to the Philippines and the announcement of more than $1 billion in US private sector investments that help promote the Philippines’ innovation economy, clean energy transition and supply chain resilience, as well as the continued US commitment to mobilizing private sector investment in the Philippines,” the three countries said in a statement released after the summit.

Another important commitment from the trilateral summit is on harnessing technology, which in turn would help secure the semiconductor supply chains among the three nations.

“We intend to pursue a new semiconductor workforce development initiative, through which students from the Philippines will receive world-class training at leading American and Japanese universities, to help secure our nations’ semiconductor supply chains.”

This is important as it could mean more semiconductor investments for us.

“This initiative complements the expansion of semiconductor investments in the Philippines that would strengthen supply chain resiliency among our three nations,” the three countries also said.

“Furthermore, through the CHIPS and Science Act’s International Technology Security and Innovation Fund, the United States and the Philippines plan to coordinate our efforts to develop and expand the Philippine semiconductor workforce to strengthen the global supply chain.”

Both the US and Japan have also expressed their intention “to provide at least $8 million for Open Radio Access Network (RAN) field trials and the Asia Open RAN Academy based in Manila, to enable future commercial deployment and an open, interoperable, secure, reliable and trusted information communications technology ecosystem in the Philippines.”

Clearly, the trilateral summit has resulted in specific commitments among the three nations with the aim of helping build the Philippines’ capabilities. I have discussed other commitments in my last column.

“Our three nations commit to facilitating the steady implementation of ongoing and future economic cooperation projects toward the Philippines’ attainment of upper middle income country status and beyond,” the joint statement also said.

Only time will tell if having these allies on our side would indeed strengthen our economy and our security in the face of the uncertainties brought about by the tensions with China.

In the meantime, the rumblings from jittery businessmen continue and there’s no telling when another dangerous water cannon attack from China erupts in the high seas.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at EyesWideOpen (Iris Gonzales) on Facebook.

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