Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi has met with the Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano in Beijing to discuss bilateral relations. The productive meeting saw both sides retain commitments to bilateral endeavours in a variety of areas, while China formally invited The Philippines to become a cooperative partner in China’s One Belt–One Road international trade initiative.
Wang praised the state of Sino-Philippine relations that has seen China become The Philippines’ biggest trading partner. As a credit to the leadership of President Rodrigo Duterte, Wang Yi stated that bilateral relations have reached new highs since 2016, while they continue to grow since the year Duterte won his electoral victory.
The Chinese Foreign Minister further praised the Philippine government’s willingness to settle disputes regarding the South China Sea in a spirit of cooperation that fosters a “good atmosphere” between the two countries. Additionally, Wang said that the two countries look forward to embarking upon President Duterte’s “co-ownership” proposals in the South China Sea that will “in a prudent and steady way advance cooperation on offshore oil and gas exploration”.
At such a juncture it becomes clear that Philippine participation in One Belt–One Road could in fact be the most effective way of not only strengthening ties between Manila and Beijing, but also the most effective way to transform the South China Sea from a problem to a place where win-win partnerships are made.
The Philippines is strategically located in such a place that the consecration of a formal maritime belt between a south Chinese port to Manila could be easily launched. A Shenzhen-Manila, Hong Kong-Manila, Xiamen-Manila and/or Guangzhou-Manila route, could all co-exist simultaneously. This could help bring more investment into The Philippines’ busiest port while having the overall effect of making the country the most vital hub in the all important China-ASEAN market.
If China and The Philippines were to formalise such a maritime trading route as part of One Belt–One Road, China would be well placed to invest further into Philippine infrastructure projects to modernise and expand existing ports whether Manila or elsewhere, as well as building important rail and road routes from ports to important internal transport hubs. China could also work constructively with the Philippine government to develop new ports throughout The Philippines, thus spreading investment throughout various parts of the likely soon to be federalised country, while taking pressure off Manila in terms of volume.
The possibilities for a Sino-Philippine partnership driven by One Belt–One Road are literally and metaphorically deep and wide. The obvious benefits to both countries that are possible in turning the South China Sea from a place of dispute to a cooperative maritime link, has been made possible due to the shift in attitude towards China that President Duterte has inaugurated in The Philippines, something that Xi Jinping once called a “golden era” of relations.
Both countries clearly benefit from such a development, but in such endeavours, the immediate benefits are felt more strongly in the partner whose economy is smaller than China’s. Thus, just as Pakistan has seen the most immediate effects of Chinese investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), so too will The Philippines see the most immediate benefits of participation in One Belt–One Road via the South China Sea. Ultimately, this is a win-win situation for all involved.