China invest plans raise security questions

August 05, 2019
Salvador Panelo

MALACAÑANG would not comment on the plan of Chinese businessmen to invest in strategic islands in the northern Philippines near the West Philippine Sea.

“We will wait for the National Security Adviser and the Secretary of National Defense to give their comments on the security issue affecting those three areas,” Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace briefing on Monday.

Chinese investors were reported eyeing the islands of Fuga in Cagayan province, and adjacent Grande and Chiquita in Subic Bay, Zambales province as investment hubs.

The investments are part of the $12.16 billion worth of investments secured by the Philippines during President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to Beijing in April for the second Belt and Road Initiative forum.

One of the agreements is the proposed $2-billion “Smart City” to be built by Xiamen-based Fong Zhi Enterprise Corp. on Fuga Island.

Fuga is the second northernmost island in the Philippines surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea.

A senior Philippine military official, who refused to be identified, said that China would eventually use Fuga island to support its geopolitical agenda in the Pacific if the investment progressed.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he has not been consulted by the business sector on the security implications of the Chinese investments.

“I’ll have the intel make an assessment,” Lorenzana said.

Asked to comment on this, Panelo said, “Then we will wait for his (Lorenzana) advice.”

China has been pushing for its expansive claims in the South China Sea, refusing to recognize the July 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) that favored the Philippine position, challenging Beijing’s claim over nearly the entire resource-rich and strategic waterway.

Duterte has chosen to set aside the PCA decision in exchange forChinese economic perks such as loans and Beijing-funded infrastructure projects.

Duterte is set to visit China this August, his fifth trip to the Asian superpower since he assumed office in June 2016.

Asked if the disputes in the South China Sea would be discussed during the forthcoming visit of Duterte to China this month, Panelo said: “(T)hat could be part of the discussion.”

“Well, the same – all visits of the President if it’s working, then it refers to discussion with the visited country relative to issues that affect both – issues that will benefit both countries; issues of conflict; issues of cooperation; issues of support especially with respect to terrorism, to fighting drugs, to cultural exchanges, people-to-people and financing too – funding,” he also said.

Panelo said developments on the Memorandum of Understanding regarding the proposed joint oil exploration in the West Philippine Sea “could be part of the discussion.”

“We are waiting for the report of (Foreign) Secretary Locsin,” he said.