'Said the Spider to the Fly': Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist

China's just-ended Silk Road Summit that showcased its ambitious plans to bring back to life the ancient trade routes.
China's just-ended Silk Road Summit that showcased its ambitious plans to bring back to life the ancient trade routes.PHOTO: AFP

Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Like the Brothers Grimm's fairy tales of our childhood that warn of cunning and deception, the poem/fable The Spider And The Fly (1829) by Mary Howitt also serves notice that not every sweet-talking entity offering gifts or a good time is to be believed or trusted.

I still remember the poem's opening lines: "'Will you walk into my parlour?' said the Spider to the Fly."

Oh, you do remember well if you had recited it as a child. Not to demonise spiders, which are really shy creatures, and as there is such a thing as a pecking order in the natural world. But after much cajoling on the part of the crawler and much hemming and hawing on the part of the fly, the latter walks into the silky web, gets trapped, and becomes a meal.

Such, too, is the modus operandi of the budol-budol operatives who, by sweet talk, con unsuspecting persons, usually the elderly walking alone, to clean out their bank accounts or hand over their life savings and jewellery without protest.

The cautionary poem for children came to mind with China's just-ended Silk Road Summit that showcased its ambitious plans to bring back to life the ancient trade routes, this time again spanning continents, from Asia to Europe and Africa.

Attending the summit were heads of states and representatives of 30 countries that could be brought into this physical worldwide web. An Inquirer report said that China vowed US$890 billion (S$1,238.70 billion) for 900 infrastructure projects worldwide and gave a preview of the massive undertaking dubbed as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Massive is truly the word. Railways that cross national borders, sea ports, international airports, industrial parks, name it, some of which are already ongoing. China's President Xi Jinping said his government has "no desire to impose our will on others." But remember, too, that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

While the Philippine delegation probably came home misty-eyed because of the hefty pledges (and, hopefully, not because of too much MSG), India's officialdom crafted a no-holds-barred statement on the Belt and Road Initiative that other nations should mull over.

It should:

- be based on universally recognised international norms, good governance, rule of law, openness, transparency and equality.

- follow principles of financial responsibility to avoid projects that would create an unsustainable debt burden for communities.

- uphold balanced ecological and environmental protection, and preservation standards.

- conduct transparent assessment of project costs.

- conduct skill and technology transfer to help long-term running and maintenance of the assets created by local communities.

- be pursued in a manner that respects sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The last one obviously refers to a contested area in Kashmir, a source of tension between India and Pakistan, but on which China state-owned companies have already set foot.

The Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has just come out with a two-part series, Romancing China Under Du30.

It lists the "abject lessons," two failed and foiled China-funded projects approved by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, a close ally of both President Duterte and China: 

"The $330-million NBN-ZTE national broadband project that was aborted in 2006 amid allegations of kickbacks sought and received by certain senior officials close to Arroyo; and

"The $400-million loan from China Export-Import Bank for the 32km-long first section of the North Luzon Railways Corp. (Northrail) project that the Arroyo administration awarded in 2003 to a subsidiary of a China state-owned enterprise. Hailed then as China's biggest loan ever extended to the Philippines, the second section of the Northrail project was to have been funded by another US$500 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China (China Exim).

"In 2012, because of supposed project revisions and delays, the Aquino administration cancelled the supply contract for the Northrail project. In a decision dated Feb 7, 2012, the Philippine Supreme Court en banc declared the contract invalid because it had been awarded without public bidding. The total loan value for Northrail's Section 1 component came up to US$503 million in combined principal and interest payments."

The title of the second part of PCIJ's series by Malou Mangahas asks: "Who is the screwer, screwed?"