It’s not going to be slow-boat ride to China for President Duterte and his high-powered official and business delegation.
Rather, expect a high-octane shuttle or whirlwind road show to lure Chinese investors to park their money in the country.
The move to tap China’s capital and vast domestic market is a strategic but logical policy shift in the country’s international engagement as the Duterte administration focuses on Asia and away from American and European business capitals.
And the business delegation that would join the President for the China trip is a power list of taipans and tycoons running big conglomerates in the country.
Such A-List means the administration is dead serious in winning more Chinese investors into the country.
About 250 Filipino business executives would visit Beijing with the President next week as he puts aside years of hostility to seek a new partnership with China at a time when tensions between Manila and its traditional ally, the United States, are mounting.
There has been no announcement about the delegation, but business groups and government officials said registration to join Duterte on his Oct. 19-21 visit had been oversubscribed. Filipino executives are eager to talk with Chinese business leaders and government officials about deals in a range of sectors, from rail, and construction to tourism, agribusiness, power and manufacturing, the sources said.
Initially only about two dozen Philippine entrepreneurs were to accompany Duterte but the number had ballooned to about 250, Trade Undersecretary Nora Terrado told Reuters. “I understand there are 100 more wanting to go,” Terrado said, adding the size of the delegation was unusual because the two sides agreed on the visit only about one month ago.
The trip could signal a transformation in a relationship dogged in recent years by mistrust over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea, and could upset strategic alliances in a region growing wary of China’s influence and military might and where the United States has a strong presence.
An arbitration court ruling in the Hague on July 12 that said China had breached the Philippines’ sovereign rights in the South China Sea had threatened to lead to a further deterioration in ties between Manila and Beijing.
But Duterte, who took office on June 30 after winning an election in May, has instead aggressively courted China and said he wants to reduce the nation’s dependence on the United States. He has said he would hold talks with China on the South China Sea dispute.
His promises to engage with China have in large part come in a near-daily barrage of hostility against Washington, raising questions about whether his overtures carried weight, or were simply aimed at boosting his profile at home by espousing a “pro-Filipino” foreign policy.
In recent days there have been clear signs of improving business ties. On Saturday, Philippines Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez said in an interview in Washington that Duterte would seek billions of dollars in infrastructure investments from China in coming months. And Philippine Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol said on Sunday that China would lift a ban on fruit exports by 27 Philippine firms as a “gift” to Duterte.
And the size of the delegation going to China and early comments from senior government officials in Manila signal a new and potentially much deeper economic relationship with Beijing than there has ever been before.
“We do have a very popular president and the president decided that he wanted to have a better relationship with China,” said Francis Chua, chairman emeritus of Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.