By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan, Reporter

THE PHILIPPINES under President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., will pursue investment commitments that China made to his predecessor, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

“The department continues to follow up on deliverables stemming from discussions between the previous administration and China,” the DFA told BusinessWorld in a text message last month. 

“We are also working on renewed commitments and thrusts of the current administration in terms of its policy on China, with a keen focus on economic cooperation,” it said. “This is crucial as both economies emerge and recover from the coronavirus pandemic.”

During ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s visit to Beijing in October 2016, China promised $24 billion worth of assistance and investments.

Of the total, $15 billion was supposed to be for business-to-business deals and $9 billion for loans from credit facilities made available to companies and development projects.

The deal was meant to benefit different sectors, including agriculture, energy, tourism, food, manufacturing, telecommunications and infrastructure, former Trade Secretary Ramon M. Lopez had told reporters. These were supposed to create at least 2 million jobs.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila did not respond to a Viber message seeking comment.

There is “nothing to get excited about,” Herman Joseph S. Kraft, who heads the University of the Philippines Political Science Department, said when asked about the chances of China following through with its promises.

“The Philippines has always not been a priority for investors,” he said in a Viber message. “Regardless of the agreements, Chinese investors are also going to consider the investment environment.”

“In that context, countries like Vietnam and others in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have always been seen as a better investment destination,” he added.

Mr. Marcos has said he wants to attract more foreign direct investments.

“I reiterate my vision of improving our business climate and elevating the status of the Philippines as a top investment destination through various endeavors,” he said on Oct. 20. “We continue to harmonize efforts of all investment promotion agencies, government agencies and local government units to effect greater synergies”.

The Philippines’ regional peers including Indonesia and Vietnam have an edge because “investments beget other investments,” UA&P economist George N. Manzano said in a Viber message.

“One can speculate that there is an element of uncertainty about the recent presidential election that could induce a wait-and-see attitude,” he said. “If other countries will invest in the Philippines, I think this will give a signal that it is an attractive investment site.”

That is why the Foreign Affairs department should follow up on China’s investment commitments, he added.

Jaime B. Naval, who teaches political science at the University of the Philippines, is more optimistic.

“Because China seeks the goodwill and cooperation of President Marcos, we’d expect it to follow through a number of its previous promises, and even lay down new if not more, appealing carrots,” he said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

He also said a South China Sea claimant that defers to China doesn’t mean it would be generously treated in terms of investment and assistance.

Mr. Duterte had sought closer trade and investment ties with China since he came to power in 2016, including potential joint explorations for oil and gas in the South China Sea.

The waterway, a key global shipping route, is subject to overlapping territorial claims involving China, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. Each year, trillions of dollars of trade flow through the sea, which is also rich in fish and gas.

The DFA in October said it would “remain unyielding in safeguarding our waters and protecting national interest and security, which was evident in the department’s assiduous protests against China’s illegal actions in Philippine maritime zones.”

It also cited Mr. Marcos’ vow to assert a 2016 arbitral ruling by a United Nations-backed tribunal that voided China’s claim to more than 80% of the sea, adding that “our sovereignty is sacred and we will not compromise it in any way.”

The Permanent Court of Arbitration based in the Hague upheld the Philippines’ rights to its exclusive economic zone within the disputed waterway. It rejected China’s claim to most of the sea based on a 1940s nine-dash line map.

“The department is firm in its position: Our foreign policy on the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea is deeply rooted in the twin anchors of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the final and binding 2016 arbitral award on the South China Sea,” the DFA said.

“This position is conveyed at all levels, in both bilateral and multilateral engagements,” it added.