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The China conundrum

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IF CHINA is a friend —  the garden  variety  type  that is good and kind, according to no less this country’s President—what enemy does the Philippines need?

This classic perplexity resonates with even graver implications with the latest revelation by Albert Del Rosario, former Philippine ambassador to the United States, that China intervened in the 2016 presidential elections.  The two-bladed drift is unmistakable: China had a hand in President Duterte’s victory in that race; it must be expected to play an invisible hand in the 2022 polls.

Del Rosario’s disclosure, though lacking in material or testimonial proof except by saying his source was reliable ( the US?), makes sense. There are many handwritings on the wall, so to speak.

First off, there’s China self-serving claim of the nine-dash line that defies the arbitral award won by the Philippines in the International Arbitral Court over its territorial rights in the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea.  Sinologists explain this hegemonic assertion by China as emanating from its historic perspective, rightly or wrongly , that  it is a civilization- state, not simply a vast nation-state.  In other words, much, if not most, of the world was theirs before the others rose and came to claim portions of it. The nine-dash line is held as crooked as it is incorrect and baseless from an objective viewpoint.

Then, of course, China has shot himself in the foot.  By joining the United Nations, including its other agencies such as the UNCLOS which defines who owns which part of the seas and the oceans, China has committed itself to a rules-based international agreement.  Using its might, however, it decided to defy it.

Going back to Del Rosario’s expose, it seems it’s not only a mere high-class political gossip.  Duterte and China are oftentimes on the same page, sometimes the former even more assertive and aggressive for China.  Duterte says China owns the SCS;  it doesn’t, according to former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio.  Duterte says the Philippine arbitral award is just a piece of scrap paper;  China said the same thing the other day. Duterte has said he’s inutile to fight for the SCS, a defeatist, if not defiant, attitude toward the Constitutional provision that a President should fight for Philippine rights.  Zambales fishermen cry of being barred by Chinese from fishing in the Scarborough shoal.  Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque  lashes at them for peddling an alleged  lie instead of finding out the truth  first, although there is enough evidence to support the credibility of the fishers’ claim. 

China is adamant about his nine-dash line claim over the SCS because of two important things: fish and oil. With its growing population, fueled now by changing its one-child policy to two or more children policy to replenish its ageing population, it needs more fish to feed its people while it attempts to expand its territories beyond its boundaries.

More importantly, the oil. China imports about 60 percent of its oil requirements. Why buy, if you can have it plentiful and certain in some other way, like claiming ownership over portions of the SCS that has been established as having vast supply of the mineral?  For a country with huge abundance of human resources, on the other hand, and having extremely sparse natural resources on the other , its aggressive move in the SCS is existential at core. In the meantime, by being the ‘factory of the world’,  China is also the biggest source of CO2 emission in the world.  The recent disclosure that its ships are also dropping Chinese waste in the SCS only underscores China as major source of environmental degradation.

As the 2022 elections are fast approaching, and given Del Rosario’s warning, the Chinese maybe as interested as, if not more interested, than the average Filipino on  who should succeed Duterte.  It’s a  no-brainer: it should be someone on the same page on China’s propaganda in the SCS.  Even better, if the successor will allow a larger space for China’s presence, especially in Philippine military camps.   Even much better, if the Philippines drop his mutual defense treaty altogether with the US so it can strengthen its military maneuvers along the SCS coastlines. It can’t be simpler and more straightforward than that. 

It’s a real cause for concern that on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the arbitral award,  China has dismissed it as a mere waste of paper while no less than the Philippine president has hailed the Communist Party of China for its success and achievements.  China invented the right word for it:kowtow.

Apparently, China is slowly but surely dismantling the country’s democratic structures with no small help from Philippine leaders who have sworn to defend them. US Vice President Mike Pence has recently denounced China as moving towards becoming an evil empire.  Unless the Filipinos act more decisively and patriotically in next year’s polls,  the Philippines runs the risk of becoming a party to that looming possibility.

Russia nearly wrecked American democracy when it intervened in the  2017 US presidential election that saw Donald Trump winning and, six years later, tried to destroy the electoral process, which is the hallmark of any democratic governance. The US is still reeling from its aftermath. 

A pithy Chinese proverb, one of Deng Shia Ping’s maxims, urges  that one should cross the river slowly by feeling its stones.  It’s now moving  across a bigger river in  SCS by not only feeling its reefs  and reclaiming seas, but co-opting the democratic representatives on the opposite shore. 

There’s a creeping sense. 

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