Saturday, March 15, 2014

Understanding China

Part I

The country’s approach to equate our security and economic interests with the US has made the country an oddball in Asia.  The government’s firming up of our position to stand behind the redefined US “Pivot Asia” policy has consummated our role as the “funny man of Asia.”  Many Filipinos could only surmise that there is no single strand in that policy we could point as beneficial to our interest, except to blindly march along with canine devotion.

Geographically, there is no way for the Philippines to avoid dealing with our giant neighbor.   As a small country, we can only be realistic in assessing our position correlative to our location and size based on the “Five Principles for Peaceful Co-existence” enunciated by China’s most distinguished diplomat, Chou En Lai.  We can never assert a chauvinistic approach in securing our claim over the disputed islands in the now renamed “West Philippine Seas”. 

For our claim of sovereignty to be appreciated by our people, we have to define it along the lines of securing our physical existence and economic survival.  This means we have to accept the inescapable truth that China is our neighbor, and could not avoid not interacting with that country. Taking a pragmatic standpoint to resolving our problem has become imperative because China has emerged as an economic superpower, and it is to our interest that we cultivate even closer economic ties with the Chinese.  

The Philippines has a population of 100 million, while China has 1.354 billion.   In 2012, the Philippines registered a $425.2 billion GNP, while China has $12.44 trillion, thus making that country the biggest economy in Asia, surpassing Japan that registered a $4.63 trillion. In trade, China now ranks as our third trading partner with 11.4 percent, while Japan leading with 14.2 percent, the US 13.2 percent.  That remarkable increase was achieved by China in just over two decades after it opened up its market to the World.   China has overtaken the US as the third largest trading partner of Asean, after Japan and the European Union, reaching a total of $192.5 billion in 2008.

Paradox to China’s growing economic strength is the receding influence of the US, and residually of its clout in this part of the globe.   The shift in the economic balance saw the various countries in Southeast Asia seeking to establish closer economic links with China.   Despite this trend, this country refuses to make a pivot of its policy by focusing more on the economic boom, which somehow could spill over to benefit our people.   

Rather, we persist in ignoring the historic shift that is taking place with China at the epicenter of the transition.   We refuse to be carried by the fact that the foundation of China’s increased economic influence is anchored on maintaining peaceful intercourse with the rest of Asia.  Unlike Japan, where its rise as an economic power grew alongside with its military strength, and the US, using its military might to gain economic advantage, China was able to achieve that phenomenal feat through peaceful means. 

The question is why should China now modify its course by asserting an overbearing attitude reminiscent of the Western style “gunboat diplomacy” to advance its interest?   On the contrary, China is the only country in modern history to achieve that status without becoming an imperialist power like what Spain, Great Britain and the US did to secure their overseas dominion.   China has never used its new economic strength as leverage to exact concessions, and demand exterritorial privileges to make exclaves with signs, “no Chinese and dogs allowed inside.” 

Despite the souring in our relations with China, that country’s economic assistance to the Philippines is now four times bigger than that of the US, the country we expect much to come to our side in the event of conflict.  In Africa and in Asia, including the Asean, China has outstripped the US in the grant of foreign assistance.

If only we gave serious thought to Deng Xiao Peng’s suggestion in 1984 that  to resolve the overlapping claims, countries must enter into a joint venture to explore and harness the resources in the China Sea,  setting aside in the meantime the issue of sovereignty.  Had we taken that step, maybe we could have economically moved forward by now.  Rather, we remain firm in rejecting the offer, thus giving China a free hand to explore, exploit, and harness the resources in the disputed area, added by the fact that it has the power and capability to secure the disputed area to its advantage without us. 

As our rift continues to deteriorate, unwittingly we allowed ourselves to be used as pawn by the US to isolate China which resulted in us being segregated from the rest of Asia.  In fact, most political analysts are pondering on what the US wants to achieve.    The idea of containing China failed during the Cold War, and it is with more reason now why it is doomed to fail.  

Others see that the only practical way for the US to stop China’s growing influence is to possibly go to war for which nobody is prepared to take the risk.  The US knows it will be fighting a war where China could equally inflict havoc on its territory to render nugatory the victory it seeks to achieve.

For as long the ultimate objective of the US remains fuzzy, that would just hang in a suspended animation worthy of being called a “paper tiger” with the Philippines tagging on like a mascot.  It would not even put a break to the shifting balance despite efforts to strengthen its military presence in the Asia-Pacific by building a string of military bases stretching from Japan down to Australia.   

Thus, as the country dilly-dallies in resolving its dispute with China, it is this country that is building its own wall of isolation, unmindful that the rest of our neighbors are shifting full gear to capture the promising China market, and are expecting much to benefit from the economic spinoff residual to its economic growth. 

Except for Japan and South Korea, which have their separate reasons to keep close their military alliance with the US, no other country has openly endorsed the US policy. They would not want their economic pipeline to be disrupted by recklessly taking a hawkish stance against China.

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