A digest of global and domestic developments, issues and concerns published and compiled by RPDEV.
Opportunities in the Philippines - Taiwan Gateways (Last of Two Parts)
SPECIAL TO THE MANILA BULLETIN
by former President Fidel V. Ramos
17 March 2009 (for the 22 March 2009-Sunday issue)
OPPORTUNITIES IN THE PHILIPPINES - TAIWAN GATEWAYS
(Last of Two Parts)
Last Sunday, I wrote about my visit to Taiwan as head of a 40-member trade and investment delegation. Therein, I outlined the opportunities Taiwan businesspeople can access from recent Philippine initiatives in four sectors -- and also the benefits of the China-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) by tapping into the gateways of the Philippines (Taiwan's closest ASEAN neighbor).
The highlight of that mission was my call on Taiwan President Ma Ying-Jeou who stressed the importance of the Taiwan connection to CAFTA, and expressed the hope that the Philippines would become the "friendly facilitator" to move that network forward. We discussed the warmer relations between Mainland China and Taiwan which would have positive impacts on the regional economy by the opening of direct flights and sea transport across both sides, and enhancing trade relations with nearby countries having diplomatic relations with China -- including the Philippines -- due to reduction of perceived political risk in dealing with Taiwan.
From a wider perspective, we also exchanged views on the probable synergy of an emerging Central East Asia Growth Polygon (CEAGPOL) consisting of the Philippines, Taiwan, Hongkong, Macau, and the major Mainland provinces of Guangdong and Fujian -- plus eventually, Hainan, Okinawa, and Guam/Marianas. With existing goodwill on all sides, real advantages can materialize from the strategic centrality of CEAGPOL vis-a-viz the huge markets of Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia.
MUTUAL BENEFITS FOR PHILIPPINES-CHINA-TAIWAN
What can the Philippines do to capture this unique opportunity, given our productive Filipino-Chinese community and our dense network of shared economic and cultural interests with China and Taiwan already in place? Simply, persistent diligence by both our officialdom and private sector in order to maintain a competitive position in our region -- in which China is the biggest player -- thereby promoting economic growth. This could consist of the following actions to expand what is already on the ground:
(1) Promote, as a Philippine initiative, the potential of CEAGPOL and assign a DTI-led Task Force to "flagship" this growth cluster, as BIMP-EAGA was developed starting in 1993.
(2) Intensively market the direct Clark-Taipei flights by the Philippines-based "Spirit of Manila" Airline scheduled for launching on 15 April -- to facilitate gateway-to-gateway and "no-frills" air services.
(3) Actualize visa-free travel to RP for businesspeople/tourists from CEAGPOL economies/territories for a period of, say, 30 days total a year for not more than 3 visits a year -- and also for our other neighbors.
CHINA'S NEW OVERTURES
At the 30th Anniversary of the Mainland's "Message to Compatriots in Taiwan," last 31 December 2008, President Hu Jintao offered six proposals to improve Cross-Straits relations, according to Xinhua News Agency:
(1) Promote China's traditional civilization with strengthened spiritual ties;
(2) Establish a Comprehensive Economic Cooperative Agreement (CECA);
(3) Within the overall principle of "One China," Beijing could discuss Taipei's participation in international organizations;
(4) Stop confrontation and reach peaceful agreements;
(5) Increase military contacts/exchanges to ease tensions; and,
(6) Abandon the Taiwan independence movement (espoused by the opposition Democratic People's Party).
So far, supportive actions have emanated from Taiwan's leadership, with initiatives (1) and (2) given priority after the relaxation of Cross-Straits travel. At the ministerial level, as well as people-to-people exchanges, much rapport has already been built up between the two sides.
Last 05 March, Reuters reported: "China Premier Wen Jiabao made new overtures to Taiwan, saying Beijing is ready to create the conditions needed to reach a peace agreement and hold talks on military issues, Wen said in a speech at the National People's Congress.... Any peace pact would benefit both sides, Taiwan's government said, but it wanted economic agreements with China before political ones."
Referring to Taiwan's ambition to participate in international organizations, Wen said: "We are ready to make fair and reasonable arrangements on the issue of Taiwan's participation in international organizations. But such participation would have to come under the 'one-China principle,' which maintains that Beijing is the sole legitimate government of China, including Taiwan."
A major security obstacle to easing tensions is a proposed $6.5 billion U.S. arms deal with Taiwan which would include 30 Apache attack helicopters and 330 Patriot missiles. Defense cooperation talks between the U.S. and China had earlier been suspended because of the U.S.-Taiwan arms negotiations. However, according to Agence France Presse (28 Feb): "China's offer to again hold the annual talks was widely seen as an olive branch extended to the new Obama administration. Sino-U.S. military relations remain marked by deep tensions over other issues aside from Taiwan. Mistrust has grown as China has poured money into modernizing its Armed Forces in recent years, fueling concerns in the U.S. that China plans to project its power boldly in the region."
THE LABOR SITUATION
As I always do on foreign trips, I dialogued with leaders and members of the Filipino community, this time organized by MECO Chairman Tomas Alcantara and Resident Representative Antonio Basilio. Such meetings with our hardworking OFWs are always joyous occasions. With MECO, the Filipino community established an "Ugnayan Center" where they hold regular get-togethers and maintain up-to-date learning facilities that provide technical and other livelihood training. A "Half-Way House" for distressed OFWs is also in place.
While some 3,700 OFW's lost their jobs in Taiwan, an almost equal number of new workers were deployed to other industries not directly affected by export shrinkage, resulting in a net job loss of only 300.
The Manila Times reported (06 March): "Premier Wen Jiabao acknowledged that major breakthroughs had been made in Cross-Straits relations in 2008 through more frequent people-to-people exchanges, closer economic ties, more active cultural exchanges and broader common interests. He said Cross-Straits relations have embarked on the track of peaceful development."
Continued The Manila Times: "Amid a record-high unemployment rate, Taiwan is resisting pressures to shut out new foreign workers from the island or laying off more of them. The most vulnerable of Taiwan's industries is electronics manufacturing, where most of the 90,000 Filipinos are employed. That industry was hit hard with the global crisis with electronics exports down 41 percent in December, compared to the previous year."
Taiwanese employers reportedly admit: "We see foreign workers as part of our success."
According to its Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, Taiwan's economy shrank by 8.36% in Q4-2008, and is expected to decline by 2.97% year-on-year in 2009. On the other side of this grim forecast is the optimism of Taiwan's prestigious Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) which recently signed an MOU with our Congressional Commission on Science and Technology (COMSTE), and Semiconductor and Electronics Industries of the Philippines, Inc. (SEIPI).
SURVEY OF CONFIDENCE
The Taipei China Post reported last 22 February: "Fifty-three percent of people surveyed are confident about the government's performance over the next 12 months, according to a survey by the Research, Development and Evaluation Commission. The survey coincided with the completion of President Ma's first nine months in office."
Don't we here in the Philippines wish such a positive confidence rating is attained by PGMA? Kaya ba natin ito??? Yes, we can -- with real personal and collective reforms on the part of those we elected to lead us.
Hot reports from international news agencies: "China-U.S. Confrontation in South China Sea. " But that's another story. Abangan!