Working with China despite differences

INTROSPECTIVE - Tony Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - January 5, 2016 - 9:00am

One of the best news pieces I read to end 2015 was the government’s decision to join the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). I have expressed my support for this venture many times in the past and have always felt that it would be in our country’s best interest to be a part of this institution along with other prominent ASEAN countries. After all, at the very least it would help give us other options to finance development projects than just the World Bank – International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank, and the European Union, which we have grown to rely on.

After all, we must realize that these institutions will always look towards the interests of their own countries first and foremost before they look at financial requirements in our part of the world. Plus with more players in the field, interest rates and lending policies will have to be more adjustable and fluid to remain competitive. In the end that will mean better practices for everyone involved.

Granted, it was a concern for the Philippines going into AIIB considering our ongoing territorial dispute with China, but that should not dictate our relationship with them in every aspect. That is just one issue that needs to be resolved. We can still work harmoniously with China as an ally and not an enemy. After all, China is a very powerful economic player in our region and we can’t ignore that fact.

Plus international relations have evolved over the years in such a way that we can compartmentalize and handle our engagements with China separately. And I have always maintained that we can resolve our sea disputes with China diplomatically. I hope that we are able to do so this 2016.

I think that Solicitor General Florin Hilbay put it perfectly when he said that he saw no problem with the government’s decision to join AIIB. He said that the AIIB membership just shows that “the Philippines continues to recognize China among the world’s largest economies and as a crucial trading partner.” He made it clear that we can still recognize China as a powerful trading partner and a rising economy even as we peacefully disagree about maritime entitlements.

I think our participation is the right decision. As of 2015 AIIB already had two of the biggest nations in the world involved – China and India – along with over 50 other countries to be included in the organization. That’s quite an impressive number and we can’t afford to be left out. Plus there is something very positive to be said about the AIIB that their two big nations include the world’s largest communist-led nation working hand-in-hand with the world’s biggest democracy to help create development for the future.

I was glad to hear of the Philippines announcing our participation in the AIIB last Dec. 30, even at the 11th hour. We still have to go through the funding and the ratification this year, but overall I think it’s a good decision and a pragmatic one moving forward. Not only will the AIIB provide us another lending institution for development projects, but as a founding member we will also have certain rights in the decision-making. There is going to be much more integration as far as ASEAN cooperation goes and we should definitely seek to start off on the right foot.

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In a related development, I was also glad to read that China, as well as Singapore, has finally relaxed its one-child policy due to their ageing and diminishing population. While it may seem to the rest of the world that China has such a large population the truth is they are also an ageing population with severe gender imbalances and a shrinking workforce. In fact, recent studies have shown that the once booming 1.9 billion population in China has shrunk to 1.4 billion due to an ageing population and emigration with talented people leaving the country and going abroad.

Unfortunately, even with the relaxed rules, a lot of citizens in China are still limiting their households to one child. Perhaps it’s just what they have grown accustomed to over the years. After all, in the past, China credited much of its growth through the discipline of controlled population. And prior to them loosening the laws on this, years of very strict enforcement have become ingrained in the minds of the people. That could be why they are still seeing much of their talented youth leaving for abroad and no next generation to take their place.

The problem of emigration is actually also true for Singapore. A lot of talented youth are leaving for opportunities abroad and the country is in need of population influx and more young and talented people staying in the country. I’m actually a bit surprised that they are experiencing their youthful and skilled workers leaving as I would think that there are good opportunities in Singapore.

In the Philippines emigration is a problem we have faced for several years. I wrote in a previous column that I never understood why the government lauded Filipinos for going to work abroad. We should be more focused on finding them opportunities here to support their talent and allow them to financially be able to care for their families as opposed to shipping them off at the first possible opportunity and then welcoming them back like heroes.

I applaud our OFWs’ sacrifices for their families, but I think we should also be ashamed that we can’t give them better opportunities closer to home. After all, I think that all of them would choose to stay with their loved ones if they only had a choice. Indonesian President Joko Widodo has pledged to bring home as many overseas working Indonesians as possible during his term as president. I think that’s something worth emulating if our leaders truly care for our people.

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