MANILA, MARCH 14, 2008 (STAR) Chinese loans and other forms of aid to the Philippines are not linked to territorial disputes in the South China Sea, a Chinese official said yesterday.

The official, who asked not to be named, also clarified that Beijing committed a package of assistance in 2005 to all developing countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and not to the Philippines alone.

“Chinese help to ASEAN countries is sincere,” the official said. “We do not attach any political conditions. It’s mutually beneficial and will result in a win-win situation.”

The other day, the spokesman for the Chinese embassy said their government is worried about the furor over the joint seismic undertaking between the two countries in the Spratly Island Group, with Vietnam later joining in.

Critics say the seismic study violated the Philippines’ sovereignty and jeopardized its claim over disputed islands in the Spratlys. They also suspect that the undertaking was a precondition for multibillion-dollar official development assistance (ODA) from China that became a funding source for projects now mired in controversies, including the broadband deal with ZTE Corp. as well as the Southrail and Northrail projects.

The Chinese official clarified that Manila and Beijing had been contemplating joint oil exploration in the Spratlys since 1984, when China was under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping.

The initiative was pursued by the administrations that succeeded Ferdinand Marcos, the Chinese official emphasized.

The official also clarified that there is no specific amount in Chinese ODA committed by Beijing to Manila.

In September 2005, during a meeting on United Nations funding, Chinese President Hu Jintao had promised $10 billion in preferential loans to developing countries around the world, with about one-third earmarked for ASEAN members.

On Dec. 12, 2005, during a meeting in Malaysia among leaders of ASEAN, China and South Korea, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao reaffirmed Beijing’s commitment of $3 billion in aid and loans to ASEAN, with no amount specified for the Philippines.

“China does not make empty promises,” the Chinese official said. “It was just a friendly assistance to ASEAN developing countries, so they could catch up with the developed ones and the region could speed up economic integration. It has nothing to do with the South China Sea.”

The only funding released so far by Beijing to Manila since 2005, the official said, was $270,000, which the previous Chinese ambassador turned over to Vice President Noli de Castro on April 30 last year. The money would be used for a feasibility study for a low-cost housing project mostly for victims of natural disasters across the country.

The Chinese official also defended a joint agricultural project covering one million hectares in the Philippines, with farms to be planted to hybrid rice and corn, with Chinese companies participating.

It would be up to farmers and landowners to participate in the project, the Chinese official said, pointing out that it would generate jobs and rent for participants.

“It’s a double-double win-win situation, and the farmers and landowners can take it or leave it,” the official said.

Palace optimistic

Malacañang expressed confidence yesterday that the controversy over the JMSU will not affect the country’s bilateral relations with China.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, however, refused to directly comment on overtures from the Chinese Embassy in Manila on how to help the government resolve the controversy over the JMSU.

“As far as the Philippine government is concerned, we believe that our good bilateral ties will continue. Our friendship and relations with China have improved and grown these past years,” Bunye told reporters.

“These isolated incidents will not be sufficient to severe and strain relations between our two countries,” he said.

“We share the concern and values of our neighboring countries in ensuring peace and stability in the region. We will continue to seek ways to maintain and enhance good bilateral relations with our neighbors,” Bunye said when asked to comment on the Chinese embassy’s offer of help.

Embassy spokesman Peng Xiubin said on Thursday that “Beijing hopes to make joint efforts with the Philippines to properly handle the problems related to our bilateral cooperation, so as to maintain healthy development of China-Philippine relations and to safeguard peace and stability in South China Sea and the region at large.”

Bunye said Beijing’s statement “was to be expected,” it being one of the claimants to the Spratlys.

He said the Philippines and the other claimants are committed to making Spratlys an area of cooperation and understanding.

He said the Palace would leave the debates over the proposed bill updating the country’s territorial borders to the “collective wisdom” of Congress.

Earlier, Beijing said in a statement that it is “worried about some recently emerged tendencies in the Philippines, which may impose negative influence on China-Philippine friendly relations and mutually beneficial cooperation.”

“China stands for the peaceful resolution of disputes over the South China Sea through friendly consultation,” the statement said. – With Paolo Romero

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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