Philippines offers China chance to run third telecom service

MANILA, AFP -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has offered China an opportunity to create a third telecommunication provider in the country, his spokesman said Monday, using rapidly-warming ties with Beijing to break a duopoly that consumers blame for poor services.

Duterte, who has courted Beijing while loosening his nation's alliance with the United States, made the offer in a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in Manila earlier this month, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

"President Duterte offered to the People's Republic of China the privilege to operate the third telecoms carrier in the country," Roque told reporters.

He said they have not yet designated the Chinese company that would enter the Philippine market.

But Roque added that this would be an integral step to ending the "duopoly" of two local firms, Globe Telecom Inc. and PLDT Inc.

Consumers have complained that the dominance of these two companies has left the Philippines lagging behind its neighbours in telecoms services.

These reportedly include the slowest average internet speed in the Asia-Pacific.

Asked why Duterte had singled out China to enter the local telecom market, Roque replied: "the president said that China has the capital and the technology to provide efficient telecom service."

Roque also said the these Chinese companies also have large numbers of subscribers, proving their capabilities.

"Consider also the proximity and the fact that we want to avail of as much economic advantage that we could arising from the renewed friendly ties with China," he added.

A $329 million national broadband contract with Chinese telecom giant ZTE was cancelled in 2007 after a bribery scandal that severely embarrassed then-president Gloria Arroyo.

In contrast to his predecessors, Duterte has pursued closer economic, political and defence ties with China since he was elected last year, even setting aside Manila's territorial dispute with Beijing over large parts of the South China Sea.

He is also expecting to receive large amounts of Chinese aid and investment to upgrade the Philippines' inadequate infrastructure system.

However critics have questioned whether the outspoken leader is getting the best deal.