Multilateral partner institutions and bilateral partners of the Philippines have been involved at varying degrees in BIMP-EAGA. Recently, China has been eager to increase its participation in BIMP-EAGA in the context of its own initiatives at connecting its economy with those of neighboring countries, including as part of its Belt and Road Infrastructure (BRI) cooperation. China’s initiatives coincide with the current administration’s “Build Build Build” program, which aims to modernize Philippine infrastructure facilities.
Observers note that past and present Philippine policy towards China has to some extent been swinging from one side of the pendulum to the other (recalling the Arroyo to Aquino to Duterte administrations). There is an ongoing debate on how the country should look at China. Pragmatically, allowing us to try to exploit the economic opportunities from cooperation and valuing what China itself can contribute to Philippine development, or do we need to be very cautious about China, both for fear of economic dependence or subservience, as well as in relation to persistent issues of sovereignty and security in the maritime arena? Both are important features of our relationship with China. Such kind of difficulty of defining the priority goals in our relations with China today also faces some of our ASEAN neighbors. How should our countries, including immediate neighbors in the BIMP-EAGA, respond to the rise of China and come out winning?
These developments justify taking a closer look at BIMP-EAGA. More detailed studies should be undertaken to evaluate the opportunities and challenges in reviving the subregional economic growth project as part of the cooperation efforts between China and selected ASEAN countries in the framework of the BRI as well as the Master Plan for ASEAN Connectivity.
Along this effort, the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation (APPFI), through its Regional Integration and Connectivity Program, convened a roundtable discussion to revisit BIMP-EAGA and discuss its policy challenges and implications given the present regional context. The discussion also aimed to find out if there is a need to continue further research or consultations involving counterparts from other countries who are stakeholders in this issue.