MINDANAO 2018: In Philippines-China relations, Davao City gets special attention 

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 30 December) – Davao City took centerstage in China’s diplomatic efforts in 2018 with proposed infrastructure projects and investments, direct flights, and the opening of a Chinese Consulate General in the city where President Rodrigo Duterte served as mayor for 22 years.

Mindanao Business Council President Vicente Lao said the city enjoys “a very special attention to the leadership of China because of his (Duterte’s) effort to improve the relationship of both countries.”

The Chinese Consulate General in Davao City along Acacia Street in Juna Subdivision was naugurated on October 28, 2018. MindaNews photo taken a day before inauguration by CAROLYN O. ARGUILLAS

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi led the inauguration of the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in Davao with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin last October 28.

The top Chinese diplomat said the opening of the consular office “speaks volumes of our full confidence in the city’s future,” boosting subnational interactions between the two countries with Davao as a “pioneer and shining example.”

The consular office started processing visas last December 10.

The Chinese foreign minister thanked President Duterte and his daughter, Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, for opening Davao’s gate to China. But, prior to this remark, the city’s gate had already been opened widely for the Chinese, including at least two research vessels and a military aircraft.

“Pilot city”

Wang also hinted Davao will be a “pilot city” for China’s cooperation with Brunei Darussalam-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) as it plans to scale up its partnership with the economic subregion.

The year 2018saw major developments in the diplomatic relationship of the Philippines and China, chief among them 29 deals signed between the two countries during President Xi Jinping’s visit last November, a number of them involving infrastructure, including two in Davao City.

(L-R)Davao City Vice Mayor Bernard Al-ag, Mindanao Development Authority Chair Abul Khayr Alonto, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua unveil the marker of the newly inaugurated Consulate General of China in Davao City, Philippines on October 28, 2018. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Amid growing criticism from the opposition and concerned citizens because of Duterte’s “soft” stance on China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea, the two leaders signed, among others, the implementation agreement on the feasibility study for Davao City Expressway project and the exchange of letters on the Davao River Bridge Project (Bucana).

The two governments also signed the memorandum of understanding on jointly promoting cooperation in key infrastructure projects in Davao Region between the Department of Finance of the Republic of the Philippines and the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China.

2 direct flights

Among other major developments in the city were the launch of the two international flights from Davao International Airport to two destinations in China — Davao-Hong Kong flights of Cathay Dragon launched on October 28 and Davao-Quanzhou of XiamenAir on December 18.

Lao lauded the new air connectivities, noting this would incrase the fighting chance of the exporters from Mindanao against their competitors in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially Thailand, over the Chinese market.

“This is a very good development for Mindanao. Now, our high value crops can find its way to the Chinese market and compete against Thailand,” he said.

Lao urged farmers to seize the opportunity to export their produce directly to the Chinese market, particularly tropical fruits from Mindanao.

The closer ties between Philippines and China would result to more engagements between Mindanawon and Chinese businessmen, opening up an opportunity for investors from both sides to do business in China and Mindanao, he said.

Export market

A report released by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) on December 11 showed that the People’s Republic of China was the third biggest export market of the Philippines valued at $803.53 million in October. The United States (US) ranked first with $996.86 million and Japan with $850.45 million.

But China emerged as top supplier of imported goods to the Philippines in the same period valued at $2.13 billion.  The Republic of Korea came second biggest with $1.08 billion and Japan $957.05 million.

The country’s banana produce, the top agricultural export crop, placed fourth among the top export products of the country, recording at $178.82 million in revenues in October 2018, according to PSA.

Li Lin, Chinese consul general, noted the entire Mindanao as “very strong” in the field of agriculture.

He said they saw the need for more investments in fruit processing to add value on high value crops to stabilize the income of the farmers.

Li said crops such as coconut, banana, and mangoes can be processed for export.

“I believe that with more people coming to Philippines they will find that Philippines, Davao, Mindanao is not only scenically beautiful but also economically growing and people here are very friendly, very hospitable, and I think the potential for economic growth in Davao and Mindanao is immense,” he said.

Boost to tourism

But the biggest benefit that the city could get from the direct flights could be in giving the local tourism industry a necessary boost, drawing Chinese visitors who may become prospective investors after seeing the city’s potential for future investment, Davao City Investment Promotion Center (DCIPC) head Lemuel Ortonio said.

“It’s a very good development. Again, we have another new international direct flight to Davao City. Of course, we are very happy, for one, our tourism industry will benefit from this,” the local investment chief said.

XiamenAir Executive Vice President Huang Guohui said the airline is willing to fly to Davao, this being an “important hub of China’s ‘Belt and Road’ initiatives as well as the foundation of in-depth cooperation between China and the Philippines.”

“We wish to develop Davao into the pioneer city that facilitates the cooperation between China and ASEAN Growth Area,” he said.

Data from the City Tourism Office showed 10,034 Chinese tourists from January to November 2018 in the city, the third biggest next to Americans (19,572) and Japanese (11,908), surpassing 2017’s record of 9,231 Chinese tourists.

The expected influx of Chinese tourists also increases the demand for Mandarin-speaking tour guides, CTO head Generose Tecson said.

The city targets to draw in 2.14 million visitors for 2018 and 2.5 million for 2019, she said.

She said the city has only two accredited guides fluent in Mandarin.

Sister cities

Just like her father, Mayor Sara Duterte had also ramped up the partnerships of the local government with Chinese cities, signed the sister city pact with Jinjiang in November and renewed diplomatic relations with Nanning, holding them with high regard as “development partners.”

he garden of the City of Davao is now a permanent attraction in Nanning, China. Mayor Sara Duterte graces the 12th China International Garden in Nanning with People’s Republic of China Consul General Li Lin, officials from the Davao City, and Kalumon Performing Ensemble. Photo courtesy of City Government of Davao

The Davao City International Relations Board also endorsed the sister city agreement proposal to the City Council’s International Relations Committee to grant legislative authority to the mayor to sign the sister city agreement with Qinhuangdao, China.

Nanning’s diplomatic relationship with Davao started in 2007 when the President was still mayor.

Mayor Sara Duterte returned from her Jinjiang visit with a memorandum of agreement signed between a Filipino-Chinese businessman and a steel manufacturing company to study the city’s potential as a site for its steel fabrication plant.

Ortonio said the city has received inquiries on investment opportunities from the possible investors in Jinjiang.

He said they always highlighted preferred investment areas of the city: light manufacturing and assembly. agri-business, tourism and recreational facilities. property development, health and wellness, educational and sports facilities, environment protection on green projects, information and communications technology, generation of new sources of energy. transportation and infrastructure; and public-private partnership projects.

MindaNews asked the investment chief on the actual Chinese investments that entered Davao in 2018 but he had yet to reply.

Best is yet to come

The Ministry of Housing and Rural Development of Nanning developed a 1,500-square garden of Davao inspired by the culture of the indigenous people (IP) here and showcased it during the 12th China International Garden along with other gardens of countries in the ASEAN and Europe.

As a gesture of good will, the city also received two brand new buses from Nanning government manufactured by Guangxi Sunlong Automobile Manufacturing Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of Shanghai Shenlong Bus Co., Ltd.

Nanning, China donates buses to City Government of Davao (Photo courtesy of City Government of Davao)

Ortonio  said the city government asked for “second hand but serviceable buses” but Nanning gave brand new buses designed with “Byaheng Do30” logo with Nanning’s city flower “Jaba” known to locals as “gumamela.” The buses 2will arrive in early 2019, he said.

He added that the bus manufacturer will send a proposal to the city government to supply it with buses to replace the old jeepneys when it implements its High Priority Bus System (HPBS) project.

Ortonio said the city government plans to gather its existing eight international and eight domestic sister cities for a three-day trade exhibit next year to level up their partnership.

He said details of the program are still being finalized but it would have cultural and trade components.

“We would want to have a meaningful exchange with our sister cities. We want to go beyond paper agreement, the kind in which when we signed the agreement, we become sister cities. We want to go beyond that,” he added.

For 2019, he said they are expecting more foreign direct investments to come to Davao not only from China.

Arturo Milan, President of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. (DCCCII) said the year 2018 was a strong year but he believes the best is yet to come.

“I would not say best. It’s very strong year for Davao but I guess the best is yet to come for Davao,” he said. (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)