CHINA’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is expected to boost the Philippines’ technological development, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo told business leaders Thursday, urging them to take advantage of opportunities provided by Chinese tech companies currently looking for partners in the Philippines.

“In this infrastructure-driven path (of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s administration), our ties with China under the BRI can provide many opportunities. The Philippines can greatly benefit from increased flows of capital for technology from China in this age of connectivity and digital economy,” Ms. Arroyo said in her speech at the 45th Philippine Business Conference and Exposition (PBC&E) organized by the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. (PCCI).

She said that given China’s level of technological development, it is no surprise that Chinese companies like Alibaba have become global leaders.

Ms. Arroyo brandished a Chinese-made translation device capable of rendering the spoken word into multiple foreign languages.

She said she recently visited China as part of a trade and investment mission for her home province of Pampanga.

“We visited the China-ASEAN Information Harbor, a high-tech company which was also visited by President Xi Jinping not long ago. It is an information harbor for building the digital silk road, and they want to set up a big data center in the Philippines,” the former President and Speaker said.

“That is big data, and that is what the BRI can bring to the Philippines if the Philippine business community takes advantage of the opportunities,” she added.

Ms. Arroyo also met with “several exporters” in China, including electronics products.

“Given the trade war between China and the US, it might be fruitful for the PCCI to reach out to the distributors of those products,” she said.

“These are all opportunities for our business sector because most foreign investors prefer a local partner for practical reasons, and the PCCI can play an important role in nurturing such partnerships and that is your challenge in this age of connectivity,” Ms. Arroyo said.

Deputy Managing Director Xiao Wei of China Telecommunications Corp., which owns a 40% stake in the Philippines’ new entrant to the telecommunications industry, Dito Telecommunity Corp., reiterated during a panel discussion the importance of the fifth-generation (5G) infrastructure in a digital economy.

“When we are working on the digitization of the economy, the infrastructure, especially the 5G network, is very important,” he said, adding that with this infrastructure, Filipinos “can enjoy more options to support their needs, especially to have better experience of the Internet.”

The Philippines fell eight notches to 64th out of 141 economies in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2019. The country’s biggest drops this year were in the fields of ICT adoption and macroeconomic stability.

In terms of ICT adoption, the Philippines dropped 21 spots to 88th globally from 67th, with its score dropping to 49.7 from 54.8. — Arjay L. Balinbin