China can fund at least 50 possible Philippine projects but the country needs a strategy to be part of the multi-trillion-dollar “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI), a Hong Kong business leader said amid concerns that the Philippines will be left out the ambitious plan.
While the Philippines was “early” to see the potential in the BRI, “Unfortunately, nothing much has been done about it,” Vincent Lo, chairman of the Hong Kong Trade and Development Council (HKTDC) told Makati Business Club (MBC) members at Makati Shangri-La on April 23.
The Philippines needs to work out “what role you should play in this whole new game,” Lo said. “Your location is very strategic, so you need to form a game plan as to how exactly you want to interact with the whole world. It’s a very competitive world and you just need to do something that you’re very good at, either it’s through your location, your human resources or your natural resources.”
Lo said HKTDC will help, including with the 50 projects. At one point he asked his assistant for the list and had Magsaysay Ho read off it. But they declined to share the list saying it wasn’t official or final yet.
“I’ve shared that with all my delegation members and asked them, ‘Who would be interested?’ so they can go and talk,” he said. “If your club is interested, then we can establish that connection,” Lo said. “If any of your members are interested to work with us, the HKTDC can help you to find the right partners, the right investors.”
Lo reminded the group that he was in the Philippines heading a 50-member trade and investment mission, whom he left to address MBC “on the instruction of Doris, of course.”
Doris is Doris Magsaysay Ho, the MBC trustee she became good friends with when Lo was in Hong Kong’s APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) and Magsaysay Ho was in ABAC Philippines. In her introduction, Magsaysay Ho traced Lo’s career in Hong Kong and China and said he was her “hero.” Among their many awards, they are both Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awardees.
Lo won the award for building the Shui On group, a large China property developer based in Hong Kong. He’s still chairman even as he heads HKTDC, a semi-government agency that serves as the international marketing arm for Hong Kong-based companies.
‘Largest Economic Platform in the World’
China President Xi Jinping launched the Belt and Road Initiative in 2013. The name is a reminder of the Silk Road that linked East and West from about 200 BC to the 1700s. Xi plans to fund infrastructure and other projects in order to link economies from Asia to Europe and Africa. Some analysts estimate it covers more than 60 countries.
“I personally believe this will be the largest economic cooperation platform in the world in this 21st century,” Lo said. “And if the Belt and Road manages to repeat China’s success in even just 10 percent of the Belt and Road economies, it could boost world growth by another 15 percent in the next four decades. This is way above the global average growth of 3.4 percent.”
‘No Conspiracy, Just Make Money’
Some analysts see other motivations for the Belt and Road Initiative including using China’s excess factory and worker capacity, political leverage in countries hungry for funding and projects and a counter-weight to the U.S., which at that time was pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Critics have also warned that the projects could go the way of other China-funded infrastructure that collapsed or ran into financial difficulties, with China taking control over some assets.
“I think a lot of countries see that not as investment, they see it as political financial support,” Lo said. “Then how could you make it work? If a country is not going to pay back the money, are you going to declare war? There’s no conspiracy. We’re only interested in making money.”
He said he does not believe that China wants to hog power, despite the “vacuum” left by the United States under the Trump administration.
Lo took pains to say the initiative isn’t just China’s, saying that’s one reason the name was revised from the original “One Belt, One Road Initiative.”
“I don’t believe China wants to dominate the world or lead the world like the way the U.S. has done for the past few decades and I believe the Belt and Road Initiative is a very good example of that.” Lo said.