Explaining the Belt and Road in the Philippines: Elite Consolidation, Construction Contracts, and Online Gambling Capital

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Our chapter examines the Belt and Road Initiative’s (BRI) investments during Rodrigo Duterte’s administration (2016-present). Duterte’s “China pivot” opened the Philippines to BRI investments. We ask: to what extent has BRI investments or Chinese capital increased since the beginning of the Duterte administration? We argue that despite the stronger relations between the Philippines and China; the progress of BRI projects has largely been uneven. First; the progress of major construction contracts by Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOE) was determined by consolidated elite support; such as that in the military; nationally significant political elites; and government technocrats. We illustrate the argument through the case of the Kaliwa Dam; showing that the dam has made significant progress despite the project’s economic unviability and numerous procedural anomalies. Afterwards; we briefly map the importance of consolidated elite support into all the other BRI projects. Second; we show that Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) massively increased in the Philippines. The sector that most represents this trend is the online gambling industry. Similar to the BRI projects; online gambling needed consolidated elite support to progress. However; the nature of the sector and the structure of the Philippine economy necessitated a different type of elite coalition for online gambling projects.