China may prove to have a big role in the “golden age of infrastructure” anticipated for the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year, 8.4-trillion-peso ($163 billion) Build Build Build infrastructure plan.
In the 1960s, the Philippines was one of Asia’s leading economies. And the country is now trying to rejuvenate itself through ambitious infrastructure spending.
“In the 1980s, the GDP per capita income on purchasing power parity of the Philippines was $1,886, while that of China was $310; we were six times richer than China. As of today, in 2017, the per capita income of China is $14,600, more than double that of the Philippines’ $7,700,” Jose Luis U Yulo Jr, president of the Chamber of Commerce of the Philippine Islands, told the China-Philippines Dialogue 2017 forum, a China Daily Asia Leadership Roundtable held on Oct 26 in Manila.
Yulo sees plenty of room for tourism growth from Chinese visitors. Figures from the Philippine Department of Tourism showed that from January to July this year, the number of Chinese nationals who visited the Philippines totaled 454,962, up 33 percent from the same period last year. But Yulo noted the numbers were still small in the context of China’s overall population.
Much as the Philippines wants to see continued growth in Chinese tourist arrivals, Yulo conveyed the concern that the country’s airports and other infrastructure are not yet ready for a massive increase.
China was the Philippines’ top trading partner during the first half of 2017, with trade worth $11.35 billion, or 15 percent of the country’s total foreign trade, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority.
Exports of Philippine bananas to China have surged this year. Around the time of Duterte’s landmark visit to China in October 2016, Beijing lifted a ban on agricultural imports from the Philippines, strengthening trade ties.
Amid the improved relationship, approved investments from China to the Philippines surged to 1.4 billion pesos in the first six months of this year, from 377 million pesos a year earlier, Ernesto Pernia, secretary of the Philippines’ National Economic and Development Authority, told Hong Kong media recently.
To attract more foreign investment, the Philippines has been easing restrictions in sectors including telecommunications, construction and contracting, and public utilities.
Citing the recent 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the country’s most important political meeting, held every five years, Yulo said the five priorities rolled out by Chinese President Xi Jinping could have global application.
These include industrial restructuring, an innovative economy, environmental protection, healthcare and retirement systems, and reducing inequality that exists between regions and between urban and rural communities.
Reducing inequality can be applied not only within individual countries but between countries, Yulo said, calling on members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations — which is chaired by the Philippines in 2017 — to make joint efforts to address poverty across borders and to achieve sustainable regional growth.