The good news is that the Philippines may soon be able to revive its moribund steel industry.
And the white knight in this particular case will be, as you might have guessed, China, our closest neighbor in our northwestern seaboard.
The good news was relayed by Jaime FlorCruz, our new Ambasssdor to Beijing, during a media forum in Quezon City last Saturday.
China has expressed keen interest in helping the Philippines become self-reliant in meeting its steel requirements by investing between $1.5 and $2 billion to put up a liquid steel plant here.
This is among the 14 bilateral agreements between the Philippines and China during the recent state visit of President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. to Beijing.
The bilateral agreements covered areas as agriculture, infrastructure, development cooperation, maritime security, and tourism.
FlorCruz said the signed agreements that’s now on the table will lead to many projects that will boost the country’s economic development.
The establishment of the first liquid steel facility in the country, he pointed out, would end the Philippines’ dependence on imported steel for various uses, such as construction and manufacturing.
The agreement was signed between the Chinese firm Baowu and SteelAsia, a large steel-making firm in the country.
The project will create between 2,000 and 3,000 jobs for Filipinos.
The deal, if it pushes through, will definitely be a game-changer as it will put up our own steel-manufacturing plant.
“We should have our own steel manufacturing plant. We cannot be forever dependent on imports,” he told media.
“We can see that this is aligned with own needs. China wants to invest in this project because we need such a facility and we will benefit from it in the long run,” he explained in a mix of English and Filipino.
The Philippine envoy to China expressed hopes the deals secured by the Marcos administration during the three-day state visit will deliver concrete projects and tangible benefits.
The state visit secured $22.8 billion in investment pledges from roundtable meetings with various Chinese companies, including those engaged in agribusiness, renewable energy, e-commerce, and tourism.
He asked in Filipino: “Paano natin ma-assure na mangyayari yung pinapangako? Hindi po madali. Kasi kailangan ng follow-through at ‘yun ang importante.Yung mga pledges, una, ay ang tingin ko nanggagaling sa taas. Hindi lamang sa mga kumpanya, mga Chinese companies na nag-sign.”
(How can we assure that the pledges will be followed? It’s not going to be easy. We need to follow-through, and that’s what’s important. I believe the pledges are coming from higher officials, not just from the Chinese companies.)
“This time nararamdaman ko na ‘yung mga pledges, ‘yung mga MOUs [Memorandum of Understanding], ay talagang senyales ng mga opisyal sa taas na ‘this time we deliver, we deliver tangible benefits, tangible projects,” he added
(This time, I feel that these pledges, the memorandums of understanding, are a sign from higher officials that ‘this time, we deliver, we deliver tangible benefits, tangible projects.’)
What Ambassador FlorCruz is saying, in short, is that the 14 bilateral agreements are worth their weight in gold since they have the backing of the Chinese government.
Professor Froilan Calilung, chair of the Department of Political Science of the University of Santo Tomas, shared the ambassador’s view that we should follow through on what has been agreed upon with the Chinese side, particularly when it comes to investment pledges.
The academic lamented that while the previous Duterte administration wangled a total of $24 billion in investment pledges from Chinese businessmen when he visited Beijing in 2017, only a minuscule amount actually came in.
The Duterte administration had hoped that China would bring in precious funding for its ambitious “Build, Build, Build” infrastructure program that envisioned 75 flagship projects, including roads and bridges, airports and seaports and an extensive railway system that would connect the three main islands.
But even as Duterte warmly welcomed the country’s participation in Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), only a few infrastructure projects were funded by the Chinese side for one reason or another.
Professor Calilung emphasized, like Ambassador FlorCruz, the importance of follow-through so that planned grand projects would not end up as epic failures.
Another resource person during the media forum, Lily Lim, a senior official of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FFCCCI), the largest group of Tsinoy entrepreneurs headed by Dr. Henry Lim Bon Liong, likewise welcomed the signing of various economic cooperation agreements during the Marcos state visit to China.
She said the Filipino-Chinese business community fully supports the Marcos administration’s efforts to revive the economy amid daunting challenges, such as high inflation.