Home Economy Manila urged to keep an eye on migrant workers as China tensions grow

Manila urged to keep an eye on migrant workers as China tensions grow

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AN AERIAL VIEW of the BRP Sierra Madre at the contested Second Thomas Shoal on March 9, 2023. — REUTERS

THE PHILIPPINES should look after overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Macau, Hong Kong and China because they are at risk if sea tensions with Beijing continue to flare up, according to a senator.

The government of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. should also ensure that exports will not be affected by supply chain disruptions, Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian told a news briefing.

“If there’s a problem in the supply chain, we won’t be able to export,” he said. “But in terms of exports, we’re not exporting so much. In fact, we’re importing more from China.”

Tensions between the Philippines and China have worsened in the past year as Beijing continues to block resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal, where Manila grounded a World War II-era ship in 1999 to assert its sovereignty. 

China has issued a new policy allowing its coast guard to detain foreigners it suspects of violating its exit-entry rules including in disputed areas of the South China Sea for up to 60 days without a trial.

Foreign vessels may be seized, and foreigners detained if they are accused of illegal entry and exit, of helping others “to illegally enter and exit the country,” and of “endangering national security and interests.”

The Philippine Coast Guard said the policy is against international law.

China was the Philippines’ largest supplier of imported goods worth $2.27 billion in March, or 24% of the total, according to the local statistics agency. Exports to China reached $837.51 million or 13.7% of the total.

China supplied the Philippines with $6.84 billion worth of goods, while Manila exported $2.84 billion worth of products from January to March.

Data from Tradeline Philippines showed that total trade between the Philippines and China reached $40.3 billion last year, up 2.9% from a year earlier.

Mr. Gatchalian said there are about 500,000 OFWs in Macau, Hong Kong and China, and their livelihoods could be jeopardized if tensions worsen further.

“If things escalate, we need to think about their welfare,” he said.

More than $3 trillion worth of trade passes yearly through the sea, which China claims almost in its entirety. A United Nations-backed tribunal in 2016 voided its claim for being illegal.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has said 200,000 Filipinos in Taiwan would suffer if tensions escalate between China and Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province.

In April last year, Chinese Ambassador Huan Xilian asked the Philippines to oppose Taiwan’s independence if the country “cares genuinely” about the welfare of OFWs there.

The envoy told a business forum in Manila nations that “talk down on China” would miss out on opportunities as it sets an ambitious economic expansion goal of about 5% this year. — John Victor D. Ordoñez

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