Why is Duterte enamored of China?

It’s a question that’s on every Filipino’s mind, for sure. Even among his most passionate supporters, there must be this persistent search for an explanation why President Duterte is so charmed by China.

The President has exhibited fondness of China even if so many Filipinos are enraged by its occupation of marine reefs and its claim of ownership over sea territory that are within the Philippines’ sovereign jurisdiction or that constitute common fishing grounds for all countries.

The President has every right to rant against the United States, to articulate the anguish of Filipinos who have suffered from the occupation of, gotten a raw deal from, and endure continuous meddling by this former colonial invader. He may also have the right to fume against European powers that misuse their economic advantage to impose unfair commercial trade.

But is China any different from these Western countries? And is the Philippines getting better treatment, or securing more satisfactory terms, as a result of its being submissive to China?

China has seized control of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, and has built artificial islands on at least three reefs claimed by the Philippines in the Spratlys. China has also claimed that it owns the vast fishing grounds that are internationally recognized as the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. China has even shown interest in Benham Rise (since renamed Philippine Rise). Mr. Duterte’s affection for China cannot be explained in the face of our country’s territorial conflicts with it.

China benefits more from its trade with the Philippines. The Philippines earned only $6.4 billion from its exports to China, while it had to pay $15.6 billion in imports from China, based on the most recent 2016 figures. This translates to a trade deficit of $9.2 billion, to the disadvantage of the Philippines. Mr. Duterte’s partiality to China cannot be justified considering the absence of any trade advantage that the Philippines enjoys at the expense of China.

China subsidizes its private companies, resulting in an unfair advantage that has wrought damage to Philippine industries. Our iron and steel companies have mostly stopped their manufacturing operations, and have shifted to merely trading finished steel products imported from China. Mr. Duterte’s bias for China cannot be justified in view of its business practices that threaten the survival of our local industries.

China has been identified by Mr. Duterte himself as the source of large supplies of “shabu” (crystal meth) shipped to the Philippines. Giant shabu laboratories operated by Chinese syndicates have also been discovered in our country. Despite all these, China has not shown any preferential resolve to help the Philippines in stopping the entry of illegal drugs. Mr. Duterte’s soft spot for China cannot be justified in the face of China’s indifference to our drug problem.

China offers loans to finance government projects at interest rates that are three to ten times higher than the rates charged by Japan. The Duterte administration explains that China makes faster loan approvals, but is this a worthy justification for the higher interest expense? What about loan preconditions that have resulted in problematic experiences for other countries, like the use of Chinese laborers and companies in building the financed projects, and loan terms that put the borrowing country’s natural resources or vital facilities under the control of China? Mr. Duterte’s liking for China cannot be justified based on the loan preconditions it imposes.

Malacañang has not explained what the Philippines stands to gain in the President’s pivot to China. Is he using the China card to wangle better terms from Western countries? The substantial decline in foreign direct investments to our country seems to negate this expectation. Or is the President turning to China as a means to neutralize Western criticism of his human rights record?

The Duterte administration owes the Filipino people an explanation.

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