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Taiwan eyes role in PH infra push

/ 06:10 AM April 30, 2018

TAIPEI — President Rodrigo Duterte may have heavily relied on mainland China for support for his “Build, Build, Build” program, but Taiwan also wants to take part in the massive infrastructure push.

The Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office, which acts as its de facto embassy, has approached several Philippine government agencies to “find out exactly what the Philippines needs.”

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This was disclosed by Peter Shih, who negotiates with the Philippines for the Office of Trade Negotiations, to eight journalists from Indo-Pacific countries who were invited to Taiwan last week.

“Regarding infrastructure policies, which is ‘Build, Build, Build,’ our representative office in Manila has already approached your relevant government agencies for potential projects,” Shih said.

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Still in discussion

He did not divulge specific details because “it’s still in the process of discussion and in that stage of fact-finding to try to find out exactly … what kind of Philippine needs can be best met by Taiwan’s [official development assistance (ODA)] initiatives.”

“I think it takes a little more time before both sides can get into consensus on what kind of projects we agree to look up,” Shih said.

Amelia W.J. Day, director of the First Bilateral Trade Division under the Ministry of Economic Affairs Bureau of Foreign Trade, said such ODA initiatives would form part of Taiwan’s New Southbound Policy.

Bullet trains

“We are looking forward in the future, there are some infrastructure projects, including bridges, trains, bullet trains, etc., those are the kinds of projects,” Day said.

Taiwan is known for its well-developed freeway system and a high-speed train system along its west coast that allow people to cross the entire island in as little as two hours.

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The policy, an initiative of the Taiwanese government under President Tsai Ing-wen, seeks to enhance Taiwan’s economic and social cooperation with countries in South and Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. This is meant to wean Taiwan off its reliance on trade with the mainland.

But under the “One China” policy, the Philippines does not have diplomatic relations with Taiwan, which mainland China considers its breakaway province.

‘Balancing game’

In a turnaround from the Aquino administration’s cold relations due to the maritime dispute in the South China Sea, Mr. Duterte has publicly professed his “love” for Chinese President Xi Jinping and his “need” for the Asian powerhouse’s support.

Shih, however, said such strong relations with mainland China should not serve as a stumbling block for Taiwan’s efforts to reach out to Indo-Pacific countries to the south.

“President Duterte has his policy to balance between the [United States], Japan and Chinese influences. Everybody’s playing the balancing game, for maximizing its own benefits,” Shih said. “It’s, I mean, natural. Everybody’s playing the game.”

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TAGS: Infrastructure projects, Rodrigo Duterte, Taiwan aid, Taiwan Economic and Cultural Office, TECO
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