Since its unveiling to the public last April 2017, the Duterte administration’s Build, Build, Build (BBB) program has stoked fierce discussion and debate. Yet of the various facets of the program’s implementation, few issues have achieved the same salience and staying power as that of the implications of its China-funded projects. From the administration’s “pivot to China”, concerns have been often raised concerning the “debt trap” risks of China-funded infrastructure, as well as their putative linkages with worsened corruption, social, and environmental dynamics.

This paper examines the development of the Duterte administration’s present and prospective China-funded projects, focusing specifically on the risk of generating ‘white elephant’ projects. While the drivers underlying the selection and implementation of unviable projects have cut across administrations, the economic bureaucracy’s limited absorptive capacity to meet the demands of an infrastructure spending surge, along with ‘exceptionalist’ procedures in the procurement of China-assisted projects, have amplified the risk of generating white elephant megaprojects in the Duterte administration. The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored the need for shifting away from unviable megaprojects towards more cost-effective and resilient infrastructure for the foreseeable future, which may require deferring some of the largest prospective China-funded projects. There is likewise scope for institutional reform in infrastructure governance processes, such as by involving third-party experts for independent verification and auditing of project approval and implementation procedures.

Myanmar’s military coup on Feb. 1 is a matter of great concern to both the country itself and to Southeast Asia as a region. Following the Nov. 8, 2020, general election, the coup appears to be an attempt to reverse the landslide victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in both the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament..

In November 2020, the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation Inc. (APPFI) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung hosted a Track Two Observer (TTO) webinar to examine the prospects of Southeast Asia’s economic recovery while reeling from the recession brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants from government agencies, the academe, and other non-government institutions came together and discussed the effects of COVID-19 on ASEAN regional economic cooperation and the efforts being carried out to mitigate and help in the region’s economic recovery.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called on the Member States of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to resume discussions on the South China Sea Code of Conduct (COC) at the start of September 2020, months after a lull in negotiations due to the global coronavirus pandemic. With the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) imposed 2021 deadline for the COC looming, ASEAN Member States are under pressure to have substantial progress towards finalizing the COC, while still grappling with the health crisis within their borders.

The Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress, with the support of the Philippine Office of Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, organized a Track Two Observer Discussion Forum to look back at the recent developments in the South China Sea (SCS) and how other claimant states, specifically Vietnam and Malaysia, have responded to thorny issues with other states, as well as their perspectives and expectations in the ongoing discussions for the COC. This policy brief highlights the developments in the SCS, focusing on friction incidents between claimant states, the long process towards the creation of a SCS COC, and the myriad issues that continue to plague the process.