July 19, 2022

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China vows to finish Philippine railway projects

CHINA will finish infrastructure projects with the Philippines including three railways, and launch more that will set new benchmarks for cooperation, according to its Foreign Ministry spokesman.

These projects would “help upgrade Philippine infrastructure in both traditional and emerging sectors,” Wang Wenbin told a news briefing in Beijing on July 18, according to a transcript posted on the ministry’s website.

He also said China would “coordinate seamlessly” with the Philippine government after President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. ordered the Department of Transportation to renegotiate the loans for three railway projects that got delayed.

These are the Calamba-Bicol, Subic-Clark and Mindanao railway projects.

Mr. Wang said the construction of more projects, including the three major railways, are well under way.

A transport official last week said China’s funding commitment for the three railways was “deemed canceled” because it had failed to respond to the Philippine government’s loan application since 2019.

Critics have said China’s failure to act on the Philippines’ loan applications showed its lack of commitment despite former President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s friendly stance toward China.

Mr. Marcos is now eyeing both foreign and private sector support for railway projects, according to Transportation Undersecretary Cesar B. Chavez.

Mr. Marcos ordered the Transportation department to go back to the negotiating table to secure loan agreements for the three railway projects, the presidential palace said in a statement at the weekend.

“Infrastructure cooperation is a highlight in the practical cooperation between China and the Philippines in the past six years,” Mr. Wang said. “China welcomes President Marcos’ instruction to the responsible department on discussing with China on the projects.”

The P142-billion Calamba to Bicol project is a 380-kilometer railway from Banlic in Calamba, Laguna, to Daraga, Albay, while the P50-billion Subic-Clark railway is a 71-kilometer railway divided into two sections — a 64-kilometer main line connecting the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and Clark Freeport Zone and a seven-kilometer link to the Subic Bay Port’s new container terminal.

The first phase of the P82-billion Mindanao railway project stretches from the Tagum Station and depot in Davao del Norte to Digos City in Davao del Sur. It will have stations in Carmen, Panabo, Santa Cruz, and three in Davao City, including a sub-depot.

“China always sees the Philippines as a priority in its neighborhood diplomacy,” Mr. Wang said. He reiterated four key areas of cooperation with the Philippines — large-scale agriculture, infrastructure, energy and people-to-people exchange.

These will carry forward the friendship of both nations and bring benefits to their people, he said.

“The Philippines is a friend and a neighbor of China. With the new Philippine government coming into office, China-Philippine relations are at a new starting point,” he added.

Earlier this month, Mr. Marcos said the Philippines and China should explore avenues of cooperation and not just discuss territorial disputes.

Mr. Marcos has tagged China as the Philippines’ “strongest partner” in pandemic recovery efforts, saying their relationship is very important and advantageous to both countries.

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Clarita A. Carlos said China’s attempt to invalidate a 2016 arbitral ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal that voided its claim to more than 80% of the South China Sea is “not anything new.”

“They have said that before but I think we have made our position clear there, and the president of the republic has made our position clear,” she said in a statement.

Mr. Wang has said “China neither accepts nor recognizes it and will never accept any claim or action based on the award.” “By doing so, we are upholding international rule of law,” he added, calling the ruling “illegal, null and void.”

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in the Hague upheld the Philippines’ rights to its exclusive economic zone within the waterway. It rejected China’s claim to most of the sea based on a 1940 nine-dash line map that Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique A. Manalo said “had no basis in law and is without legal effect.”

Mr. Manalo has said the findings of the arbitration court “are no longer within the reach of denial and rebuttal, and are conclusive as they are indisputable.” — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan