Citing Sri Lanka and Myanmar, the ex-Senate president warns that when indebted countries fail to pay loans, China takes over the sites of their investments
MANILA, Philippines (Jul. 25, 2017) — The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte should be careful in dealing with China.
While he lauded the improvement of ties between the Manila and Beijing, former Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr, a party mate of the President, said the government should not allow the Asian giant to claim territories, such as the Scarborough Shoal and the Benham Rise, that belong to the Philippines.
“China would claim Scarborough Shoal, which is in the [Philippines’] 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone near Palawan, so far away from China. But because of the so-called 9-dash line claiming territories, they feel free telling the world, ‘This territory is ours.’ We should not allow that to happen,” Pimentel told Rappler in an interview on Tuesday, July 25.
Pimentel founded the current ruling party, PDP-Laban, in 1982. He is the father of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III, a key ally of Duterte in the Senate.
The veteran senator also said Duterte should not alienate the United States, the Philippines’ longtime ally.
Since assuming office, Duterte has veered away from the US and moved closer to China, in a move he and his allies describe as an “independent” foreign policy.
“What I’m trying to emphasize is befriending these nations is a good thing, but it does not mean we should alienate the US, because the US has always been our friend,” Pimentel said.
In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, the Netherlands, favored the Philippines in its dispute with China over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea). China has refused to accept the ruling.
Duterte has taken a softer stance toward the Asian giant and opted not to raise the territorial issue with China, in exchange for funding assistance for his ambitious infrastructure program and more investments.
Be wary of Chinese loans
Pimentel also warned the administration of the possible repercussions should the Philippines take the multibillion loans from China, so far amounting to $24 billion.
The former senator pointed out how China has a history of pressuring its borrowers if they are unable to pay.
“I want a more clear definition of how China would become a lender of funds or investor in the Philippines. Because if we allow China to just come in as they did in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Laos, where they invested…. If these countries cannot pay according to their terms of contract, they would take over and become owners of the areas in which their investments were poured. I do not want that to happen to the Philippines,” Pimentel said.
“They should be careful with the way they’re dealing with China and other investors,” he added.
Pimentel said the government should inform the public how they plan to protect the country in exchange for these loans from China.
“Therefore it’s very important for us to be aware of these things, for the administration to inform us that these are the safeguards [they] are undertaking. Otherwise, I would say that the people should begin to speak up now,” the veteran lawmaker said.
Many politicians and groups have warned Duterte against taking loans from China. The President, however, maintains China is “sincere” in delivering its commitments.