Tiring but fruitful
President Duterte missed the Apec (Asia-Pacific Economic Coopertation) Gala Dinner and the traditional “graduation” photo-op because of extreme drowsiness. It is not easy for the body of a septuagenarian to take a 25-hour trip across time zones and datelines. The President was not a jetsetter in his earlier life. The long expedition overpowered his much-vaunted stamina.
Nevertheless, before his body finally said no, the President actively participated in the Business Advisory Council Dialogue. There he proudly outlined his government’s economic agenda. The 21 leaders in attendance and CEOs of the 63 biggest global corporations broke out into smaller discussion groups on the following urgent concerns: human capital development; upgrading SMEs; the regional food market and regional economic integration.
In addition to these main headings, the groups discussed climate change, access to water and connectivity. The last item was particularly vibrant, as the conversation included Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook CEO.
In the discussions, the President underscored the need for more intensive cooperation among the economies of the Asia-Pacific. This network of cooperation, he insisted, should particularly focus on bringing down poverty rates and promoting genuine inclusive growth. These two goals are ultimately inseparable. Economic growth that excludes the poorest of the poor can only produce a social backlash.
On the sidelines of the main Apec plenaries, President Duterte had extremely fruitful bilateral meetings with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.
Even before they actually met, Duterte and Putin expressed admiration for each other. Both are impressed by the political determination of the other. They belong to an elite club of strong leaders, a rarity in the diffused politics of this time.
When they finally met face to face, the chemistry between the two was readily evident. Putin repeated four times during their dialogue his invitation for the Filipino leader to visit Moscow. The Filipino leader agreed, except that it should not be in winter.
The Filipino and Russian leaders agreed our bilateral relationship has to be strengthened. Instead of discussing arms, however, they discussed engineering. The Filipino side was interested in acquiring energy equipment, machines for retrofitting and, above all, transport infrastructure.
The Russians were anxious to access our tropical food products. It was agreed that Russia would increase its purchases of Philippine agricultural products to as much as $2.5 billion annually from the current low of only P43 million.
The dialogue between President Duterte and President Xi Jinping, coming close on the heels of their meeting in Beijing, assumed the characteristic of a follow-through meeting. The agenda focused on concrete matters such as financing arrangements for projects agreed upon, preparations for the increased inflow of Chinese tourists following the recent lifting of Beijing’s travel advisory, intensified cooperation in curtailing smuggling and narcotics trading, and more expanded cultural exchanges.
The Chinese leader informed President Duterte that the agreements covering grants and investments signed previously in Beijing were all endorsed to the National Development Reform Commission for speedy action. Among these agreements are those involving Chinese support for upgrading our rice production, fisheries training and fruit production. As a concrete application of the agreements, Xi announced an initial purchase of some 100,000 tons of fruits worth about $100 million.
All of the things taken up with the Russian and Chinese leaders were assigned to Cabinet secretaries and agency heads for immediate execution. Our officials who joined the presidential delegation met with their counterparts to work out schedules for the implementation of the agreements.
In their second meeting, Xi invited President Duterte to subsequent meetings on China’s Belt and Road international initiative and praised the Filipino leader as a man of principle who acts on his words.
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