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SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Did President Marcos deliberately post on X his message congratulating Taiwan’s pro-independence president-elect Lai Ching-Te, or was it a lapse on his part, unmindful of its possible impact on Beijing?

If it was a lapse, then Beijing has reason to give him the rude advice to “read more” and not to “play with fire” in issuing statements about Taiwan, which China considers as its renegade province.

BBM had posted: “On behalf of the Filipino people, I congratulate President-elect Lai Ching-te on his election as Taiwan’s next President. We look forward to close collaboration, strengthening mutual interests, fostering peace, and ensuring prosperity for our peoples in the years ahead.”

Marcos and his government should be insulted by the undiplomatic comment of the Chinese foreign ministry’s spokesperson Mao Ning: “We suggest President Marcos read more to develop a proper understanding of the ins and outs of the Taiwan question and come to a right conclusion.”

Does that imply that the President of the Philippines is no read, no write? (Rodrigo Duterte might agree.) Even if it’s just no read, it’s an insult to the leader of the Philippines.

Mao Ning also told a press conference that the Philippines should stop the “wrong words and deeds” on the Taiwan issue because it might encourage the separatists on the island.

Since the advice, however, was given not by BBM’s counterpart Xi Jinping but by a factotum in Beijing, Malacañang has chosen not to comment on the ministry’s statement, leaving the reaction to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The DFA, which apparently was not consulted when BBM posted the message on Monday, issued a statement reaffirming the Philippines’ commitment to the one-China policy.

Marcos’ post was simply “his way of thanking” Taiwan, the DFA explained, for hosting nearly 200,000 overseas Filipino workers and conducting a “successful democratic process.”

*      *      *

Beijing continued to huff and puff on Wednesday, grousing that BBM was the only head of state professing to adhere to the one-China policy who personally congratulated Lai.

By Wednesday evening, BBM’s defense chief must have had enough. Gilbert Teodoro accurately described the Chinese statement as an insult, and dished out his own strong words.

“It is unfortunate that the PRC Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson stooped to such low and gutter level talk – resorting to insulting our President and the Filipino nation, and further debasing herself, the Ministry, and Party she represents in the process,” Teodoro declared in a statement.

“But then again, we should not at all be surprised – being a nation and people enjoying the privileges, rights, and freedoms of a democratic society – that an agent of a Party and system of government incompatible with our way of life and who routinely spouts State-sanctioned propaganda and disinformation would go that far and that low.”

While the Chinese statement is unfortunate, he said, “I am, myself, unsurprised. The Spokesperson’s statements were ‘on brand.’ We, and the world, should not expect more.”

Teodoro is a close friend and former legal counsel of Bongbong Marcos. Was he expressing the sentiment of BBM on the Chinese insult?

*      *      *

In the land of the comprehension-challenged, it took some time before BBM’s other supporters recognized the insult he received and came out in his defense. Several administration lawmakers issued their statements yesterday.

Being of BBM’s generation, I can understand why he would see Taiwan as an independent republic, as the self-ruled island describes itself.

He grew up with Taiwan having its own currency (one of the world’s most stable), its own armed forces and diplomatic corps.

Taiwan issues its own visa, and its passport is the 35th strongest in the world in the latest Global Mobility Index. Taiwan passport holders currently have visa-free access to 143 countries and territories. China is ranked 62nd in the index, with visa-free access to 85 countries and territories.

(Related to this, the Philippine passport is ranked 73rd, with visa-free access to 69. We’re behind Singapore (ranked No. 1 together with France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain, with visa-free access to 194 countries and territories); Malaysia (12th), Brunei (20th), Timor-Leste (56th), Thailand (63rd) and Indonesia (66th).)

Taiwan’s political system is different from China, which the mainlanders may want to embrace instead of the other way around in case reunification happens.

The Taiwanese enjoy one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, with Global Finance magazine ranking it as the 14th richest among 193 countries and territories in 2023 based on GDP per capita adjusted for purchasing power.

BBM grew up with Taiwan being called by its formal name, the Republic of China. That makes it an independent republic like the Philippines, right? Beijing wants the international community to call Taiwan “Chinese Taipei.” But Taipei is the capital of the ROC. Right?

President Marcos may be right in his appreciation of the situation of Taiwan. But even some of his allies have openly advised him to be more careful when it comes to issuing statements especially concerning China. A statement posted on his personal social media account carries special weight.

The President being the architect of Philippine foreign policy, circumspection is a virtue when it comes to statements on international affairs.

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