Is Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua the biggest obstacle to President Rodrigo Duterte’s access to billions of Chinese loans and grants promised to the Philippines?
A source from the Filipino-Chinese community told POLITIKO (politics.com.ph) that Zhao has canceled a number of infrastructure loans and grants to the Philippines that were supposed to be signed during the visit of China President Xi Jinping next month.
“He (Zhao) refused to endorse the loans and grants to the China Ministry of Commerce even though these were approved by the Department of Finance,” the source.
The grants are supposed to fund the feasibility studies and the counterpart funding for Philippine infrastructure projects to be bankrolled by China’s official development assistance loans.
The source said Xi had given Zhao “blanket authority” to assess and decide which projects proposed by President Rodrigo Duterte should be financed by Chinese money.
The source said Zhao was apparently using these billions in loans and grants as leverage to force Duterte to agree to a joint oil exploration deal in the Recto Bank inside the West Philippine Sea.
The talks have been stalled as Duterte has stood firm in not relinquishing majority control of the project as it would mean surrendering part of the country’s sovereignty to China.
In a Bloomberg report, analyst Richard Heydarian said the current administration appeared to have been “used” as China failed to deliver on its promised bonanza of investments and loans since Duterte agreed to pivot from the US to China and Russia two years ago.
“After the wave of euphoria which greeted those announcements in 2016, we realize now that those Chinese investment claims were hugely inflated,” said Heydarian.
Only $148 million worth of loans and grants for three projects (irrigation and two bridges) have so far come to fruition out of the 27 deals worth $24 billion that were ballyhooed during Duterte’s state visit to Beijing in October 2016.
Zhao was appointed to Manila in 2014 during the dark years of the Philippines-Chinese relations during the Aquino administration. The source said Zhao has overstayed his welcome in the country as he was supposed to stay for only two to three years.
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