China offers to build railway systems amidst territorial dispute
During a speech last week, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte divulged that according to Chinese envoys, China could build the Philippines a railway from Metro Manila to Clark, Pampanga in two years.
“The ambassador said, ‘We will do the railway immediately and we will solve your Clark-Manila railway. We’ll use the shortest way.’ I don’t know how they’ll do it, but we will complete it in two years,” the President said at a Davao forum with businessmen and his Cabinet appointees.
According to a Rappler report, Duterte then turned the tables on the businessmen he was addressing. “Can you match the offer? Because if you cannot match the offer, I will accept the goodwill of China. My job is to see to it that the people are comfortable,” the long-time Davao mayor said.
The creation of railway systems has been a staple of Duterte’s voiced infrastructure projects. Last month, when he still held press conferences, he bared that his big-ticket projects include railway systems that will link Manila to the three points of Luzon, as well as one for the whole of Mindanao.
Duterte was also singing the same tune back in February—“ Build us a rail for Mindanao, build us a railway from Manila to Bicol, I will be happy, let us not fight. Build us a railway because no nation on earth ever progressed without a railway,” he was quoted during a gathering of a group of supporters, interestingly enough called Forum of Women Action with Rody Duterte (Forward Women).
Deal outside of dispute?
The President-elect said that China’s offer to build railways came outside of discussions about the territorial dispute.
“I was not ready to talk about [the dispute]. I was just asking how you can help us with the railway,” Duterte said during the recent Davao forum.
As noted by the Rappler report, on his campaign trail, Duterte had mentioned he would accept such an offer from China in exchange for agreeing to joint exploration of the disputed West Philippine Sea.
“If the negotiation is not being done, or it is in still waters until now, maybe three years from now, I have to talk. You know, you have a problem, you have to make deals,” he said back in April in reference to the upcoming ruling on the Philippines’ case against China by an international tribunal on the West Philippine Sea dispute.
China has repeatedly expressed it would not recognize any arbitration decision despite the slew of calls from other governments for it to respect international law.
Duterte has often referenced China’s role in funding the US$13.8-billion East Africa Railway Masterplan in Kenya—an ambitious project that will link Mombasa with other east African cities like Kampala in Uganda and Juba in South Sudan.
According to the International Railway Journal, the railway is intended to slash the travel time from Mombasa to Nairobi from 12 hours to just four hours, with passenger trains traveling at 120 kph, carrying some 25 million tons per year.
As noted by a CNN report, the East Africa Railway Masterplan is being managed by the East Africa Community—an intergovernmental organization comprised of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda—and is being built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation, while 90 percent of the Mombasa-Nairobi section is being financed by The Export-Import Bank of China.
By TIMOTHY JAY IBAY