PH, China working on 'fast lane' for official travel to speed up projects

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 8) — A fast lane arrangement between the Philippines and China is in the works to facilitate essential business and official travel amid the pandemic, the Chinese Embassy in Manila said Tuesday.

This is part of the two countries' commitment to push forward the ongoing government-to-government projects, which have resumed at 80 percent capacity, the Chinese consulate said in a statement.

"Both sides are working closely to establish a 'fast lane' for the movement of the key personnel and trying their utmost to help the projects resume full capacity," the statement read.

In early June, China established a fast lane with Singapore, its first travel deal with a Southeast Asian country. It started out with six Chinese provinces and Singaporean municipalities, which would be expanded amid discussions on the gradual resumption of commercial flights.

China has a similar arrangement with South Korea, Germany, and is in talks with other countries, according to its foreign ministry.

During a video conference with the Philippines' Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez on Monday, Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian commended the "smooth" implementation of projects under Manila's massive "Build, Build, Build" infrastructure program and Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative, the embassy said.

"[Huang] expressed his belief in the Philippines’ construction of an increasingly healthy and stable business environment that would exert a positive influence on the bilateral economic and trade cooperation in wide areas of mutual interest," the embassy said.

Huang expressed hopes more projects would be implemented soon, while Dominguez said the Philippines is working toward the timely completion of flagship programs, the Chinese Embassy added.

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On the eve of the 122nd anniversary of the Philippines' Independence Day, President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, agreed to pursue bilateral cooperation under the new normal. In the same phone conversation, Xi promised that the Philippines would be prioritized once China develops a vaccine against the coronavirus disease.

The virus has infected more than 27.3 million people worlwide since it was discovered in Wuhan, China in December 2019. The Philippines has recorded the most infections in Southeast Asia.

The two countries are embroiled in a long-standing dispute on the South China Sea, a global waterway that Beijing claims almost entirely. An international tribunal in The Hague recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights to areas within its exclusive economic zone that China contests, but the Duterte government agreed to set aside the arbitration win for cooperation.