MANILA, Philippines – As he downplayed the likelihood of China shutting down the Philippine power supply, President Rodrigo Duterte nevertheless promised to "quarrel" with the Asian giant if it does interfere with the electricity system.
"China, if you do that, there will be a quarrel. I may not overcome you but you will receive from me a mouthful then I will go to other places and look for help," said Duterte on Friday night, November 29, in an interview with CNN Philippines.
But before he made the threat, the Philippine leader made it clear he does not think China would shut down the country's power supply, a possibility floated by an internal report for Philippine lawmakers obtained by CNN.
The report, prepared by an unnamed government agency, claimed that Chinese engineers had access to "key elements of the system, and that power could in theory be deactivated remotely on Beijing's orders."
China, through the State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC), owns 40% of the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP), the country's only transmission service tasked with operating the Philippines' power grid.
'It's a business'
Duterte said China would never shut down the grid because doing so would harm the earning potential of its state-owned firm's investment in the NGCP.
"It's a business so why would China cut it?" said the President, echoing the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Interfering with NGCP operations would also ruin China's international reputation which it is keen to protect for its own interests.
"Kasi yung China, tumulong lang, nagmagandang loob kasi gusto nila may kakampi sila kasi puro kakampi ng Americano eh so they're trying to help everybody na makinig sa kanila eh," said Duterte.
(Because China is just helping, showing good will because they want allies since many countries are allies with America, so they're trying to help everybody who will listen to them.)
Still, one way China asserts power and influence in countries all over the world is through their economies and economic policies.
Duterte has embraced economic deals and other agreements with China, even as critics warned these could be used by Beijing as leverage when it comes to the Philippines' rights in the West Philippine Sea.
China claims virtually the entire water body and refuses to recognize the 2016 international arbitral ruling that invalidated their claim and condemned their reclamation activities there.
The Duterte government is set to finalize an oil and gas exploration venture with China in the West Philippine Sea, after it finalized a memorandum of understanding on cooperation in this sector.
Sea law experts and critics have cautioned his administration from entering any deal that would compromise the Philippines' rights in the West Philippine Sea. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.