Monday, April 7, 2014

Saving face, and the bully that is China

By F. Sionil Jose 
The Philippine Star
Illustration by REY RIVERA
Illustration by REY RIVERA
In writing this opinion piece, I talked with and considered the opinions of President Fidel V. Ramos, former Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr., Gen. Jose Almonte, Rafael Alunan III, Boo Chanco, and Chito Santa Romana.
Former National Security Adviser Roilo Golez has raised the alarm that we may soon have a military confrontation with China over Ayungin shoal, where our Marines are stationed in a rusting ship that was beached there. The Chinese have already succeeded in driving away our fishermen from the Panatag shoal off Zambales. Both are well within our 200-mile territorial zone, so far away from China. But China is claiming all of the South China Sea and its expected resources. China is doing this now because it has achieved economic and military might — enough to challenge the American hegemony.
On the other hand, the United States and Japan must recognize that China’s emergence assures China of a leadership position in Asia, that America, most of all, must make accommodation for the “new boy” on the block.
This accommodation must be made clear to the Chinese, that they must abide by the rules and abandon their preposterous claim over the whole of the South China Sea based on their reading of their own history.
What can the Philippines do?
First, look at the map and realize that the contest is not really between China and us but between China, Japan and the United States. The United States and the Japanese can very well take care of themselves. Not us.
Neither China nor the United States is poised for war. The Chinese just want more power. They need each other economically; China needs the Americans more as it continues its economic development. Billions in American and Japanese money are in China. For this reason, all three want peace.
It is obvious that the United States will certainly not go to war for us. It is also obvious that we need American military assistance — not just those old tubs for our Navy. This is why we should welcome them back if only as a hedge versus Chinese recalcitrance.
Many of those who do not appreciate the American presence can be classified into 1) ultra nationalists, 2) Communists and fellow travelers, 3) pro-Chinese Filipinos who want to control this nation for themselves and for China.
The American bases that were expelled — that decision was made by senators posing as nationalists. Had the idea been subjected to a national vote, it would have been easily rejected. To this very day, the American influence in Filipinos is overwhelming. If that old and silly idea of this country joining the American union was put to a vote, it would get approval.
I had objected to the bases in the past. They perpetuated dependency on the United States, the teacher-pupil relationship and therefore obstructed our development.
Then I looked around our part of the world, the American bases in Korea, Japan. These countries were not hindered in their development. And Japan — it pays for the presence of United States bases on Japanese soil.
There goes my argument.
President Theodore Roosevelt declared, “Speak softly but carry a big stick.”
Here we are, speaking very, very loudly without any stick at all!
Being weak, prudence demands that we settle our problem with China through diplomacy; that we deal with China quietly, without swagger bilaterally or through ASEAN and the United Nations. This is what our leaders propose.
Given that China is very face-conscious, we can exploit this Chinese trait for our own defense. We must speak loudly then, although we know that we carry no stick at all.
I suggested before that each time China bullies us, our overseas workers must demonstrate noisily in all the major cities in the world where China has embassies and consulates. In the Philippines, we may even propose a boycott of all Chinese products.
If we succeed in doing this, then the malls will be emptied of cheap Chinese products that, hopefully, will be replaced with Filipino produce. We then transform ourselves from consumers to producers and exporters. Our capitalists should have done this long ago.
If the Chinese attack, we will respond in kind like the Vietnamese did. We will be bloodied and we will lose, but they will lose face as aggressors in the eyes of the world. And we will have the world’s sympathy.
We must make it very expensive for any interloper to do us harm. We have to sacrifice and spend for our defense, to get assistance from whoever is willing to help. In this regard, it is the United States that has the wherewithal and the duty as stipulated in our agreement with them. Moreover, as the late Ninoy Aquino said, “We need friends. To whom do we turn? The best is the United States.”
It has been suggested that we arrange mutually beneficial agreements with them, that they join us in the exploitation of the resources within our territorial boundaries. This will not work to our advantage because they will then have a foothold in the territories that they claim.
The bottom line: do we need China? Certainly we do, not only because it is powerful, but also because it is a neighbor and it is always good policy to have good relations with one’s neighbors. Economically, however, we have little to gain from China the way we have more to gain from Japan, the United States and Western Europe. There is more Philippine money now in China than Chinese money in the Philippines.
Why so?
We now face a most serious problem: the fact that the Philippine economy, a large chunk of it (as much as 60 percent) is in the hands of Chinese Filipinos — they who sent money to China, whose loyalty to this country that made them rich is dubious.
Even without being ordered by Beijing, on their own — because of their loyalty to China — they can scuttle the Philippine economy if they so decide.
How do we deal with them?
They themselves must answer this question if we Filipinos cannot.

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