The Spectre of China’s Maritime Silk Road: Investment Coalitions and China’s Port Investments in the Philippines
By Collin Koh
Alvin Camba, a PhD candidate at the Johns Hopkins University, presented his ongoing research on Chinese investments in the Indo-Pacific region. It placed special focus on the Philippines as part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and particularly the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road initiative, which forms part of this grand strategy aimed at increasing infrastructure capacity and linkages across Southeast Asia, Oceania, and the Indian Ocean. Mr Camba noted that existing literature on Chinese investments, as part of BRI, assume that Beijing’s military and financial might will inundate smaller host states into accepting these projects. While useful at the macro-level, he pointed out that this perspective ignores the heterogeneity and capacity of actors within the state to shape outcomes.
To illustrate this point, Mr Camba examined three Chinese port investments in the Philippines — the Manila’s Harbour Centre Port Terminal, Consolacion in Cebu, and Davao Sasa. In recent years, Camba’s findings, based on his extensive field work and content analysis of open-source Philippines reports, demonstrated that China negotiated the financing of these three ports, but only managed to succeed in one and failed to materialise the other two despite the support of Rodrigo Duterte’s Beijing-friendly government. Mr Camba argued that the success or failure of foreign capital projects depends upon the distributionary impact of these ventures — pointing out that projects which generate symmetric distribution on the relevant host state partners, lead to an investment coalition that protects the project. However, his findings show that projects with an unequal distributionary impact intensify opposition, delaying or modifying the foreign funders’ designs and intentions.
Last updated on 23/01/2019