The Philippines has announced its withdrawal from three railway projects under China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive infrastructure plan that aims to connect Asia, Africa, and Europe. The decision came amid rising tensions in the South China Sea, where China and the Philippines have competing territorial claims.
The Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said the country was not dropping the entire BRI, but only some projects that were not moving forward. He said Beijing had failed to provide funding for the three railway projects, which were worth $3 billion in total. He also said the Philippines faced delays in six other projects with China, including a dam, a bridge, and an irrigation system.
The Philippines’ exit from the BRI is seen as a blow to China’s ambitious plan to expand its influence and connectivity across the region and beyond. China has been accused of using the BRI as a tool to advance its geopolitical and economic interests, as well as to spread its authoritarian values and practices to other countries.
The Philippines is not the first country to withdraw from the BRI. Italy, which was the first G7 nation to join the initiative in 2019, announced its exit in January 2023, citing concerns over China’s human rights record and debt-trap diplomacy. Other countries, such as Malaysia, Pakistan, and Myanmar, have also renegotiated or canceled some of the BRI projects due to financial or environmental issues.
The Philippines’ move to exit from the BRI is also a clear signal that it is aligning itself more closely with the US and its allies in the Indo-Pacific region, especially amid the growing threat from China in the South China Sea. China claims almost all of the disputed waters, where it has built artificial islands and military bases. The Philippines, along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan, also have overlapping claims in the area.
The Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who succeeded Rodrigo Duterte in 2023, has taken a less China-friendly stance and moved closer to the US on strategic policy. He has reaffirmed the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the US, which obliges both countries to come to each other’s aid in case of an attack. He has also welcomed the US-led Quad alliance, which consists of Australia, India, Japan, and the US, as a counterbalance to China’s assertiveness in the region.
– Philippines drops China’s Belt and Road as tensions flare, Deutsche Welle, 11/08/2023
– Fresh blow for Xi Jinping’s BRI: Philippines becomes latest country to exit China’s $1 trillion ‘project of the century’, MSN, 11/04/2023
– Philippines to exit from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, MSN, 11/03/2023
– First Italy, now Philippines jumps off the Belt and Road bandwagon. Is Xi Jinping’s BRI exploitative?, WION, 11/02/2023