The Philippines will not follow the US lead in blacklisting Chinese companies involved in the construction of artificial islands in the disputed South China Sea, the president’s spokesman said on Tuesday, arguing that Manila needed Beijing’s investment.
Washington last week announced sanctions against 24 Chinese State-owned companies – including subsidiaries of China Communications Construction Co Ltd, which is involved in a $10 billion airport project in Manila.
The US has been pushing back against Beijing’s military build-up in the South China Sea, where sovereignty is contested by several countries – including the Philippines.
China claims the majority of the area, invoking its so-called “nine-dash line” to justify its alleged historic rights to a key waterway through which trillions of dollars of international trade pass every year.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque on Tuesday said Chinese involvement in major Philippine infrastructure projects would go ahead despite Washington’s sanctions – including turning Sangley Point, a US naval station until the early 1970s, into a commercial airport.
“The Sangley project will push through,” Roque told reporters, adding that the Philippines “will not follow the American directive because we are a free and independent State and we need investments coming from China”.
Chinese ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian said the US sanctions were aimed at driving “a wedge between China and regional countries”.
He said: “I believe that any attempt to undermine the normal economic cooperation between China and the Philippines will never succeed.”
China has reinforced its claim to the South China Sea by building up small shoals and reefs into military bases with airstrips and port facilities.
It rejected a 2016 UN-backed tribunal’s ruling that its claims were without legal basis.
Sino-Philippine relations have improved under Duterte, who has tried to steer his country away from the ambit of the US – its former colonial master – to pursue greater economic cooperation with its giant neighbour and US rival.