By Roy Mabasa
The United States has intensified its campaign to lure greater participation of the Philippines in the economic aspect of its Indo-Pacific strategy, highlighted by the whirlwind visits of two ranking State Department officials in Manila this week.
On a multi-stop visit to Asia, US Assistant Secretary of State for Economic and Business Affairs Manisha Singh met with Philippine officials led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez and Economic Planning Secretary Ernesto Pernia “to identify opportunities for broader bilateral engagement with government and private sector stakeholders as a part of the US Indo-Pacific Strategy.”
The US official also discussed initiatives to support private sector-led growth particularly in the areas of infrastructure, energy, and the digital economy.
In a statement issued by the US Embassy in Manila on Friday, it said Singh, who was in the country on a two-day visit, likewise met with infrastructure firms, briefed the Joint Cyber Security Working Group, and met with small companies to learn about the country’s emerging start-up ecosystem.
In her meeting with the private sector, Singh stressed the importance of high standards in commerce and public-private partnerships to unlock the power of the market for sustainable development.
On Wednesday, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Walter Douglas announced that the Philippines will receive a US$60 million – the largest chunk of the US$300-million fund – to help set up a framework that would enable fresh investments to come in under the realm of the Indo Pacific Strategy.
“We have close to $300 million in security assistance. The country that receives the largest chunk, as far as I understand, is the Philippines. So we’re looking at about $60 million of that $300 million to come to the Philippines,” Douglas told journalists in Manila.
He explained that the US$60-million fund is a “recognition of the long-term partnership we’ve had with the Philippines on the security front” which the US sees as a priority to help the Philippines.
“And that will cover all sorts of areas – peacekeeping, maritime domain awareness, all sorts of areas that we think we’re working very well with the Philippines,” he added.
He said the US, together with its partners and allies, has identified three major areas that could make a difference in the region, namely: digital economy, energy and infrastructure.
The combined trips of Singh and Douglas to Manila to the entire region came after the July 30 Indo-Pacific Forum in Washington, D.C. where the US launched the economic and commercial components of the whole-of-government Indo-Pacific Strategy to advance a free and open Indo-Pacific region.
At the forum, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo announced new government initiatives to advance sustainable prosperity in the region, seeded with $113 million.
It further emphasized that the US seeks to work with Indo-Pacific partners to foster a welcoming environment for investment that prioritizes transparency, anti-corruption, and responsible financing.