Chinese-backed bid for Sangley airport project triggers security fears
MANILA, Philippines — A new development in one of the country’s strategic spots has fanned national security concerns: The prospect of a Chinese-backed firm building a commercial airport at Sangley Point, Cavite might soon become a reality.
A consortium led by China Communications Construction Co. Ltd. (CCCC) and Lucio Tan’s MacroAsia Corp. submitted the lone bid for the Cavite government’s planned P500 billion Sangley Point International Airport.
According to reports, the Chinese state-owned CCCC was debarred from 2011 to 2017 by the World Bank for alleged fraudulent practices.
But it is the idea of having a Chinese foothold in a vital location that did not seem to sit well with some retired and active security officials.
“On the basis of the same security and defense issues that we earlier raised resulting [in] the aborted purchase of the Hanjin Subic shipyard by a Chinese company, this again is highly objectionable and even worse!” retired Navy chief Alexander Pama wrote in a Facebook post on Thursday.
Early this year, two unidentified Chinese shipbuilding firms reportedly showed interest to take over the Philippine unit of the bankrupt shipyard of South Korea’s Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction Corp. located in Subic Bay, a former US naval base facing the West Philippine Sea, where Beijing is expanding its presence to bolster its maritime claims.
The plans of the Chinese firms never moved forward and were unheard of later on after security officials had voiced their concerns against the possible Chinese takeover of the shipyard.
Pama pointed out that the air and naval bases at Sangley Point were positioned there precisely for their strategic locations.
A former US base until the early 1970s, Sangley Point currently houses Philippine air and naval bases. Its strategic location near Manila Bay had also made it a prime naval facility even during the time of Spanish colonization.
“With this, they (Navy and Air Force) will be co-located with something that could bring clear and present danger to them (if they are not evicted and/or relocated) and consequently to our nation’s capital. Won’t we really ever learn? Is it too late to rectify this?” Pama said.
He also raised security concerns on the presence of a massive Philippine Online Gaming Operations (Pogo) complex near Sangley Point, which mostly caters to Chinese employees.
A ranking security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the potential Chinese-backed development at Sangley Point should be viewed through national security lens: “Anything that Chinese pays attention to should be subject for investigation on where that Chinese company is connected with. The security sector must be part of the decision-makers.”
Eye on strategic locations
Apart from the prospect of a Chinese takeover at Hanjin shipyard, security officials also earlier raised concerns over the reported interest of Chinese firms in some of the country’s strategic locations.
The Philippine Navy in August strongly cautioned against the reported plan of Chinese firms to invest in three islands in northern Luzon, which are coincidentally considered with great strategic importance.
Chinese investors had proposed to build a P2-billion “smart city” on Fuga Island, located between the Pacific Ocean and West Philippine Sea, as well as development projects on Grande and Chiquita Islands in Subic Bay.
Other Chinese stakes on sensitive infrastructure have faced scrutiny this year for national security reasons, including the agreement with a China-backed telecommunications company to set up equipment in military camps and the 11-year old partnership of the privately-run National Grid Corporation of the Philippines with a Chinese firm.
Chinese-backed investments and projects have seen rising scrutiny in some parts of the world in recent years due to national security concerns.
International analysts have said that it is part of China’s playbook to invest in a country’s significant infrastructure or strategic location for potential dual-use projects that would suit its strategic military needs in the future.
To allay the security fears on the Chinese-backed project at Sangley Point, the Cavite government said it wants the Philippine Air Force to move its operations at the planned international airport.
“That will ensure we have safeguards in place to assert our sovereignty over the development,” Cavite Gov. Jonvic Remulla was quoted as saying in an Inquirer report on Thursday.
Edited by KGA
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