A visual drawing of the Samal Island-Davao City Connector Project. [Photo/Xinhua]
A bridge that will stretch almost 4 kilometers being built in the Philippines with the help of funding from China will help boost the economic potential of the country's south and serve as an enduring symbol of the closer ties between the two countries, observers say.
Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr led the groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday for the Samal Island-Davao City Connector Project, which will connect Davao, the island of Mindanao's largest city, and the Island Garden City of Samal, one of the most popular resort islands in the Philippines. China will cover 90 percent of the 23 billion pesos ($397 million) project cost.
Marcos thanked China for taking part in the project and being such a dependable partner. The project is a "testament to the strong and ever-growing foundation of the bilateral relations and cooperation" between China and the Philippines, he said.
Jan Robert Go, assistant professor for political science at the University of the Philippines Diliman, said: "Bridges are both real and symbolic. Real to the extent that these connect people, and symbolic as bridges show the closer ties between the two countries."
Even though China and the Philippines may differ on some issues, the construction of the Samal-Davao bridge project shows there are other areas where they can work together and where collaboration can be strengthened, he said.
Wilson Lee Flores, honorary chairman of the Anvil Business Club in Manila, said the project is a "continuing win-win" for both China and the Philippines.
The Philippines' Build, Build, Build infrastructure program and the visionary Belt and Road Initiative are complementary, he said, and he called on both countries to "accelerate and increase" infrastructure partnerships.
More tourists expected
The Samal Island-Davao City Connector Project is expected to be open by 2027, bringing in more tourists to Samal, famous for its pristine beaches and one of the country's prime tourism hot spots. Up to 25,000 vehicles will be able to use the bridge each day, and it will reduce travel time between Samal and Davao and provide more access to employment, education and other services.
Anna Malindog-Uy, vice-president for external affairs at the Asian Century Philippines Strategic Studies Institute in Manila, said the bridge will bring both tourists and investors to Mindanao.
China's Ambassador to the Philippines, Huang Xilian, said at the groundbreaking ceremony that the project "honors the strong bond of the practical cooperation and close friendship" between the two countries. Huang said he hoped the new milestone of the China-Philippines friendship will also improve the lives of Filipinos and serve as a new landmark of the Davao region.
Lucio Blanco Pitlo III, a research fellow at the think tank Asia-Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation in Manila, said: "The bridge is part of a number of infrastructure projects China is involved in in the Davao region and shows Beijing's appreciation for Duterte's role in improving bilateral relations under his watch," Pitlo said.
Austin Ong, president of the Philippines-China Friendship Society, said the bridge is an example of how China is delivering on its commitment even after the change in administration and helping the Philippines shed its reputation as a laggard in infrastructure development in the region.