President, Philippine Council for Foreign Relations
The Chinese are reclaiming land in the West Philippine Sea is like a neighbor digging in your backyard. So what is there to do? What are the options? Joint military exercise with the U.S? Let us not kid ourselves. Firstly war is not an option mostly because the U.S is not going to war with China over our dispute with China. President Obama had said so in no uncertain terms. He is like a father who is not going to side with one son over the other when they fight. When he was over here he told us bluntly to settle our difference with our big neighbor diplomatically.
And why is the U.S being very gentle with China despite all that rhetoric about the need for her not to act like a bully. This does not even amount to a slap on the wrist. The fact that China is the biggest creditor of the U.S who has absorbed no less than a trillion and a half of the municipal bonds issued by the U.S . This is not to mention US-China trade which is increasing by leaps and bound. As we speak U.S. goods and private services with China totalled $579 billion .This has made China the 2nd largest goods trading partner of the US with $562 billion trade both ways as of 2013.
Now if we look at the big picture we cannot afford to antagonize the awakened giant in Asia which will have a bigger economy than the US in a few decades. The Chinese economy will be the biggest trading partner of ASEAN countries in a few years. Moreover if we are part of the revived Chinese silk route which will extend from Beijing to Belgrade, and will revive the old galleon trade of yore this country will surely profit greatly from the Chinese trade initiative. Add to this the benefit to be derived from the Asian Infrastructure and Investment Bank which China will utilize to create an Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere which the Japanese failed to do.
It will be recalled that in the recent past China offered to help in the infrastructure development of this country, it offered a north and south rail project, a broadband and fiber optic –projects which unfortunately were shut down because of alleged corruption plus a lot of soft loans. It also offered a sharing program in the development of energy in the South China Sea.
All these went down the drain when this country opted a legal approach to solving our dispute with China rather than choose the bilateral negotiations route.
Assuming arguendo that we win in the international courts, what next, because China which is not a signatory to this multilateral institution will surely not agree.
Before the gravy train passes without abandoning our historic claims in the South China Sea why not try out the other track – the back channeling route. That is if China agrees?
China and the Philippines established diplomatic relations on 9 June 1975. Over the 34 years, China-Philippines relations in general have attained a smooth development, and also remarkable achievements in all areas of bilateral cooperation.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, there has been frequent of high-level visits between China and the Philippines. President Marcos (June 1975), President Aquino (April 1988), President Ramos (April 1993), President Estrada (May 2000) and President Arroyo (November 2011 and September 2014) visited China. Premier Li Peng (December 1990), Chairman of the Standing Committee of the 8th National People’s Congress Mr. Qiao Shi (August 1993), President Jiang Zemin (November 1996), Premier Zhu Rongji (November 1999), Chairman of Standing Committee of the 9th National People’s Congress Mr. Li Peng (September 2002), Chairman of the Standing Committee of the 10th National People’s Congress Mr. Wu Bangguo (August 2013), President Hu Jintao (April 2005) and Premier Wen Jiabao (January 2007) visited the Philippines.
Bilateral trade in 2013 between China and this country has reached some $15 billion making it a major trading partner. This does not take into account Chinese direct investments in the country and Filipino Taipan investments in China which are increasing over time.
Chinese Filipinos constitute one group of Overseas Chinese and are one of the largest Overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia. As of 2005, Chinese Filipinos number approximately 1.5 million corresponding to 1.6% of the Philippine population. Chinese Filipinos are well represented in all levels of Philippines society, and well integrated politically and economically. The ethnically Chinese Filipinos comprise 1.6% (1.5 million) of the population or ~ 15-25% of the population including all variants of Chinese mestizos. Pure Chinese Filipinos comprise the 9th largest, and the largest non-indigenous ethnic group in the Philippines.
Chinese Filipinos are present within several commerce and business sectors in the Philippines and a few sources estimate companies which comprise a majority of the Philippine economy are owned by Chinese Filipinos, if one includes Chinese mestizos.
In sum Philippine-Chinese ethnic and cultural ties remain strong so why not use this as an instrument to promote closer Sino-Philippine relations which began centuries ago with the Galleon Trade. The optimum position for this country to take is therefore to enhance the historic ties with our former colonialist the US by being a member of good standing in the APEC community while joining the Silk Route and Asian Infrastructure and Investment bank initiative of China. This way we get the best of both worlds.
This will however require “cooling it” with regard to the China Sea issue by using the diplomatic track with our Chinese neighbour.