Should we be afraid of China?

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

In the past few years, China has been increasingly flexing its economic and military power all over the world, demonstrating its ascent as a global power. The impressive 35 years of economic growth powered by state-sponsored capitalism and exports to all countries needs a geopolitical reach to ensure access to raw materials and markets. While some countries have made pushbacks against China’s incursions earlier, reactions by many countries the past 12 months have been more pronounced and stronger. Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand immediately canceled their repatriation treaties with Hong Kong/China in reaction to the passage of the Hong Kong law allowing Beijing to prosecute crimes in Hong Kong. Vietnam forcibly pushed out Chinese fishing vessels out of their territorial waters, and India engaged China in skirmishes on the mountain borders.

The passing through of U.S. naval vessels in the Chinese-claimed South China Sea areas are getting more often, and the joint naval exercises by the U.S. and allies in the area are getting bigger, that last week China fired two missiles into the South China Sea in response. Then, there is the recurring Chinese threats to Taiwan which flared up wider when China insulted and warned a Czech minister for visiting Taiwan, and the Czech minister lambasted China. During this time, the Philippine secretaries of Defense and of the Foreign Affairs berated China’s assertions on the South China Sea even if the Philippine President has been kowtowing to China. The month of August ended with the U.S. sanctioning/blacklisting the Chinese companies that were involved in the illegal construction and destructions of the reefs in the South China seas, which included the ban of Chinese companies acquiring U.S. technologies and Chinese students in some of the higher education facilities in the U.S.

That it has reached this point for China could be a case of overconfidence and overreach because of tolerance, empty rhetoric and inaction by the affected countries. History has shown that subtle aggression eventually gets to a point when the aggrieved countries will push back. Earlier, the response of these countries was silence and acquiescence, or feeble diplomatic protests. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which is believed to have originated from China may have accelerated this stronger response to Chinese aggression. Now, Vietnam, India and U.S. are saber-rattling with military presence and the diplomatic and rhetorical protests are stronger. China is countering with massive propaganda in the main and social media, but these are neutralized by the predatory investments/loans of China in the developing countries of Africa and Asia that have them foreclosing/taking over unviable infrastructure projects. Except for the two missiles test fired to the South China Sea and their continuing harassment of Filipino fishermen in the fishing grounds which are clearly in the Philippines jurisdiction, there had been an easing of Chinese military provocations.

The Philippines’ timid response to Chinese aggression may have emboldened China but this may be turning around with the latest actions of some high government officials, and the 80% survey results which showed that Filipinos oppose the Chinese territorial incursions, presence of gambling and prohibited drug suppliers, and cigarette smugglers. China’s failure to deliver the promised loans and investments are added fuel together with the eroding global China reputation.

The Philippines should not be afraid of China and more so at this time. China needs a market for its manufactured goods and raw materials sources than hardened enemies. Strategically, it would be more effective for China to invade Taiwan than any other country. It has a better political justification and world condemnation/reaction is more predictable. The Philippines has to stand up for its territories and its rights and the time is now.

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