Philippines Expels China Experts Amid South China Sea Concerns

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Philippines Expels China Experts Amid South China Sea Concerns

Manila ends Chinese involvement in running its power grid citing security fears.

The Philippine government said earlier this week it would end Chinese technical involvement in the country’s power grid partly due to lingering security concerns.

On the night of February 23, Philippine media outlets had first reported that Philippine Energy Secretary Carlos Jericho Petilla had said that the government would not renew the work visas of 16 Chinese experts employed by the National Grid Corporation of the Philippines (NGCP) when they expire in July 2015.

The Chinese state-owned firm State Grid Corporation of China has had a 40% stake in the NGCP, which runs the national power grid of the Philippines. But Petilla said the government now wanted only Filipinos working there.

Petilla openly acknowledged that concerns over the presence of the Chinese experts stemmed partly from the ongoing South China Sea disputes between the Philippines and China. Relations between the two countries have soured over the last few years largely due to conflicting claims there, and Manila has filed a case against Beijing with the arbitral tribunal at The Hague.

“Of course, this is an offshoot of the West Philippine Sea dispute,” Petilla said according to ABS-CBN News, using the Philippines’ preferred term for the South China Sea.

He also admitted that some officials in Philippine government agencies and bodies like the National Security Council were uncomfortable with NGCP having Chinese experts involved.

“NSA is wary that it [NGCP] is being run by Chinese nationals. So ang solusyon [the solution] is with finality, turn over everything to Filipinos,” he said in a mixture of Tagalog and English.

Interestingly, Petilla also reportedly wondered aloud why others did not have similar fears because the Chinese firm also has similar partial ownership in other countries like Australia.

“If we are paranoid about it, I am not sure why Australia and the others are not,” he said.

However, Petilla emphasized that while there would be no more Chinese nationals running NGCP, there would be two of them remaining in their capacity as board of directors. The Chinese stake in the NGCP would still remain because of the distinction made between the management and technical side and ownership.

He also said he did not anticipate any opposition to the decision because key officials of several government agencies and the NGCP had already taken part in a high-level meeting last year and had agreed on the outcome.

The announcement came a day after Philippine senator Miriam Santiago had warned about foreign involvement in NGCP – albeit without referring specifically to China.

“The Philippine Constitution is replete with requirements of nationalism but such a vital and strategic industry such as the electric power industry is infected by a national security virus,” Santiago said in a statement on February 22.