MANILA – Former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Thursday took a critical view at the widening financial relationship between the Philippines and China, warning of the perils of haphazardly incurring debts to fund its projects.
In a speech at a forum marking the 50th anniversary of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Makati, Del Rosario warned that in entering financial agreements with China without careful deliberation, the government might end up tying to debt the future of the next generation.
“There is little to separate our political disagreements with China and any financial relationship. By entering into weighty financial agreements, we may end up not only tying our own hands but also the hands of the next generation,” Del Rosario said.
Del Rosario also cautioned against bartering away sovereignty in exchange for financial aid from the Asian giant. He was the DFA chief in 2013 when Manila sued in a UN tribunal, invoking UNCLOS, over what it called “excessive” claims by Beijing in the South China Sea. The tribunal ruled in Manila’s favor on July 12, 2016, but there had been apprehension that President Duterte would not invoke the favorable ruling as he cozies up to China. The President has explained he did not mean to disregard the ruling and would invoke it at the proper time.
“We cannot trade away our sovereign rights and we should not give even the impression that we are willing to do so,” Del Rosario said.
Something more bothers the country’s former top diplomat: the entire ASEAN itself seems to be adrift, with no clear direction on how it should engage China, which had always been seen to exploit bilateral relations and discourage multilateral action by the regional bloc.
The entire ASEAN seems to have been cast adrift in its effort to give priority to economic ties with China, one of the bloc’s key partners, noted Del Rosario.
The region seems wary about acting on key issues involving China for fear that Beijing would take back the economic partnerships it has forged with Southeast Asian nations.
Del Rosario rued, “I believe ASEAN is adrift. This situation may be explained in part by the importance we attach to our economic ties with China.”
As Del Rosario made the warning Thursday, Reuters reported that Southeast Asian ministers meeting this week are “set to avoid tackling the subject of Beijing’s arming and building of manmade South China Sea islands, preparing to endorse a framework for a code of conduct that is neither binding nor enforceable.”
Reuters said a draft it reviewed showed ASEAN has omitted references to China’s most controversial activities in its joint communique.
Furthermore, a leaked blueprint for establishing an ASEAN-China code of maritime conduct does not call for it to be legally binding, or seek adherence to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Reuters said.