Corporate Watch

“At the end of the rainbow, you’ll find a pot of gold,” the old song goes. The rainbow points to where, in folklore, the leprechauns buried their riches.
But in the rural areas of the Philippines, as in most of Asia, little children entranced by the beautiful colors of the rainbow are told not to point at the rainbow. Your point finger will be cut off, the grandmas say. Pointing at the rainbow is taunting the gods because the rainbow is said to be an irascible deity in early cultures. In pagan-Christian syncretism, the rainbow is a symbol of God’s infinite power as He promised He will not destroy the world by floods again, as He did in Noah’s time. But you do not point to the rainbow and “collect” on God’s benevolence.
So, what did Chinese President Xi Jinping mean, exactly, when he described ties with the Philippines as “rainbow after the rain,” even before his state visit November 20-21 (2018) to Manila? Did he allude to the metaphoric gold of the leprechauns at the end of the rainbow, with near-exclusive trade and business offered in adulation by his professed admirer President Rodrigo Duterte? Indeed, it had been “raining” antagonism in the administration previous to Duterte, which initiated the arbitral case that led to the Hague ruling of July 12, 2016, awarding certain areas in the disputed South China Sea to the Philippines, based on the incompatibility of the Chinese claims with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Rain: that nasty arbitral ruling against China; rainbow: new, improved China-Philippines economic (and maybe political/military) relations.
That was two years ago, when Duterte had just started his six-year term as president, and thereafter he visited China, where his host, Xi, promised him some $24 billion in Chinese projects and financing (nytimes, Nov. 19, 2018). A few weeks before that, Duterte had publicly said that “the Philippines (was) being treated like a dog by Washington and would be better off with China” ( Nov. 19 2018). Perhaps feeling reinforced by the “pot of gold” (promises) from China, Duterte was emboldened to antagonize the US further by openly saying, “Bye, bye America. We do not need you. Prepare to leave the Philippines. Prepare for the eventual repeal or abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)” (, June 30, 2017). Duterte also hinted at a move toward China as retaliation for continued US criticism of the country’s human rights record under his leadership (Ibid.).
“I simply love Xi Jinping,” Pres. Duterte said in April. “He understands my problem and is willing to help, so I would say, ‘Thank you, China’” (, Nov. 19, 2018). But Xi Jinping, President for life of the People’s Republic of China, General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) with no term limits, has been wooing not only Duterte. “China has dispersed tens of billions of dollars in loans since 2013 as it expands its political influence globally, countering the American hegemony that characterized the post-World War II order, especially in Asia,” one report pointed out (AFP News Nov. 20, 2018).
“President Trump didn’t start a trade war with China — he’s trying to end and win the trade war that China launched against the US,” Fox News said (July 28, 2018). “America’s trade deficit with China is so large it almost defies comprehension. Since 2012, our yearly deficit in the trade of goods with China has consistently topped $300 billion. Last year, it was over $375.5 billion. In the first five months of this year it topped $150 billion,” the news report lamented (Ibid.). It seems Xi Jinping has found and helped himself and China to that pot of gold that America has squirreled away, since the postwar rehabilitation and boom, at the end of the proverbial rainbow of prosperity.
Nations are now being pressured to choose sides in the US-China trade war, it would seem, with economic-need levels as tempting near-term bases for long-term alliance. At the 2018 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Papua, New Guinea, US Vice-President Mike Pence cautioned countries in the Indo-Pacific region, “Do not accept foreign debt that could compromise your sovereignty. Protect your interest. Preserve your independence. And just like America, always put your country first” (, Nov. 18, 2018). Pence warned against falling into the Chinese debt trap and pitched for leaning to America: “We don’t drown our partners in a sea of debt. We don’t coerce or compromise your independence. We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road,” he said, in a ‘clear swipe at China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a Beijing-backed trillion-dollar infrastructure spending drive’ (Ibid.).
And in the Philippines, barely any projects have materialized on China’s $24 billion in investment pledges two years ago, prompting deepening concerns that Pres. Duterte has undermined the country’s sovereignty with little to show in return, analysts say (, July 26, 2018). Only one loan agreement worth $73 million to fund an irrigation project north of Manila, and two bridges funded with Chinese grants worth up to $75 million were started, according to Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia (Ibid.). From both sides, the common excuse is the long and tedious bureaucratic processing of the grants/ loans, and the implementing sub-contracts.
At Xi Jinping’s official visit to Manila last week, he and Pres. Duterte witnessed the signing of 29 memoranda of understanding (MoUs), ranging from trade and finance to agriculture and infrastructure, culture and people-to-people exchanges, as well as oil and gas development (China Global Television Network [cgtn] Nov 21, 2018). “If the MoU on the oil and gas cooperation can introduce real results, that will set an example for other countries in solving the South China Sea dispute,” Professor Dai Fan of the Jinan University said (Ibid.). “Under Duterte, the Philippines has forward-deployed its geopolitical concessions…We have been used by China” Richard Heydarian, non-resident fellow at ADR-Stratbase Institute, a think tank, said in an interview (, July 26, 2018). “Duterte will need the Chinese president to put his money where his mouth is, and help him justify his concessions to a historic rival,” Heydarian added (, Nov. 19, 2018).
A historic rival, China, is Pres. Duterte’s new rainbow of hope to achieve his legacy and honor as an achieving president in the likes of his admired former dictator Ferdinand Marcos (martial law 1972-1986). But Chinese committed investments in the Philippines in the first half of this year were just $33 million, about 40% of that of the United States and about a seventh of Japan’s, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, a similar trend the previous year. Chinese exports to the Philippines grew 26% in 2017 from a year earlier, outpacing its imports from Manila, which grew 9.8% (, Nov. 19 2018). True, net foreign direct investment from China surged to $181 million for the first eight months of this year, from $28.8 million for all of 2017, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) — but again, these benefit the Chinese investors more for the attractive returns for them vis-à-vis the Filipinos’ temporary enjoyment of these funds.
Then, what rainbow was Duterte pointing at? In our culture, one does not point at the rainbow and dictate on the gods to give you your pot of gold.
“Duterte’s naivety with China has been a slam dunk strategic coup for China, no doubt about it,” Prof. Heydarian says (Ibid.). Indeed, the “rainbow after the rain” belongs to Xi Jinping, not to Duterte.
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.