The cost of indebtedness

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 5, 2021 - 12:00am

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. expressed the sentiment of many Filipinos when he tweeted that China should “get the f*** out” of the West Philippine Sea. Yesterday he apologized to his Chinese counterpart. China’s foreign ministry lambasted his “megaphone diplomacy” and advised him to mind his manners.

China has territorial disputes with nearly every country that it shares borders with. It is also feuding with countries outside its maritime exclusive economic zone over other issues. We know how the United States has responded, with President Joe Biden saying America welcomes rivalry, is avoiding conflict, but wants adherence to a rules-based international order.

As for other countries, here’s part of a Reuters dispatch dated May 3, 2021:

Australia will review the 99-year lease of a commercial and military port in its north to a Chinese firm, the Sydney Morning Herald reported late on Sunday, a move that could further inflame tensions between Beijing and Canberra.

Defence officials are checking if Landbridge Group, owned by Chinese billionaire Ye Cheng, should be forced to give up its ownership of the port in Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, on national security grounds, the newspaper said.

Australia’s national security committee has asked the defence department to “come back with some advice” on the lease and the review is underway, Defence Minister Peter Dutton was quoted as saying in the report. …

Landbridge, which has close ties to the Chinese military according to media reports, won a bidding process in 2015 to operate the port in a deal worth A$506 million ($390 million).

The decision raised eyebrows in the United States as the port is the southern flank of U.S. operations in the Pacific. Australian media reported that then President Barack Obama expressed anger at then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for not having informed him of the deal.

Last week, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he would act on the port’s ownership if national security concerns were raised. …

Relations between Australia and China deteriorated after Canberra last year called for an international inquiry into the origins of COVID-19, prompting trade reprisals from Beijing.

*      *      *

Over in neighboring New Zealand, here’s another Reuters dispatch on the same day from the capital Wellington:

Differences between New Zealand and its top trading partner China are becoming harder to reconcile as Beijing’s role in the world grows and changes, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday. …

In a speech at the China Business Summit in Auckland, Ardern said there are things on which China and New Zealand “do not, cannot, and will not agree,” but added these differences need not define their relationship.

“It will not have escaped the attention of anyone here that as China’s role in the world grows and changes, the differences between our systems – and the interests and values that shape those systems – are becoming harder to reconcile,” Ardern said.

“This is a challenge that we, and many other countries across the Indo Pacific region, but also in Europe and other regions, are also grappling with,” she added.

In comments that sparked some reaction among Western allies, Foreign Affairs Minister Nanaia Mahuta said last month she was uncomfortable expanding the role of Five Eyes, which includes Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States. …

China, which takes almost one-third of New Zealand’s exports, has accused the Five Eyes of ganging up on it by issuing statements on Hong Kong and the treatment of ethnic Muslim Uyhgurs in Xinjiang. …

Ardern said New Zealand would continue to speak about these issues individually as well as through its partners, noting that managing the relationship with China is not always going to be easy. …

When asked if New Zealand would risk trade punishment with China, as did Australia, to uphold values, Ardern said: “It would be a concern to anyone in New Zealand if the consideration was ‘Do we speak on this or are we too worried of economic impacts?’ ”

*      *      *

A report on April 22 also said Australia had cancelled two Chinese Belt and Road infrastructure building deals forged in 2018 and 2019 with Victoria state.

The cancellation was made under new laws that authorized the federal government to overrule international agreements that violate national interest, which are entered into by lower-level administrations.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Ann Payne said the deals were considered to be “inconsistent with Australia’s foreign policy or adverse to our foreign relations.”

While Australia and New Zealand are wealthier than the Philippines, their military capabilities are dwarfed by nuclear power China. But they’re not talking about facing China in a shooting war even as they pursue foreign policies with their national interest and cherished values foremost in mind.

*      *      *

Our government, meanwhile, harps on utang na loob or debt of gratitude for COVID vaccines donated by the country that gave the world the virus in the first place, and kept the world in the dark until the Apocalypse had been unleashed.

Why don’t we just pay for the one million donated Sinovac doses, at market price and not at the cost of our maritime sovereign rights? Anyway, we’re paying for the rest of the Sinovac shipments.

Last Monday night, President Duterte again ranted against retired Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio and former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario’s “losing” Panatag or Scarborough Shoal in a deal with China brokered by Washington.

What happened was China agreed to a joint withdrawal of ships from Panatag, and then reneged on it.

It was classic doublespeak from the Chinese, who also kept reassuring the world that the huts it built on Panganiban or Mischief Reef in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) were merely shelters for its fishermen. The reef is now a fortified artificial island with airstrip and ship dock.

The Philippines then went to the international arbitration court, where it won the case. Duterte subsequently dropped the ball. Panganiban is still a Chinese military base.

Duterte’s policy of bowing and scraping to Beijing is costing the country’s fishing industry losses estimated at P7.2 million for every month that the Chinese ships refuse to leave the WPS. This is according to Tugon Kabuhayan, an umbrella group of industry stakeholders promoting food security.

The group warned that Chinese reclamation and dredging activities are also destroying coral reef ecosystems that are spawning grounds for marine life in the South China Sea, which accounts for an estimated 12 percent of the global fish catch.

Based on data from the National Task Force on WPS, the group said Chinese fishing vessels take about 240,000 kilos of fish daily from our waters.

This is the additional cost of utang na loob.

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