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Opinion

The necessary China pushback

FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras - The Freeman

From all indications and indicators, the confrontation in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea will be escalating. Diplomatic and naval/aerial maneuvers and posturing in the area will be increasing, leading to, at the very least, to a Cold War between China against the US and allies Japan, Taiwan, Australia, and the NATO countries. The recent swarming of Chinese coast guard ships together with para-military fishing vessels, and the counter deployment of Philippine naval ships, the pass-through of the US and British aircraft carriers with complete flotillas of supporting ships, are really intended tangential confrontation signaling diplomatic and military intentions. The flurry of Chinese propaganda coming from their government and the controlled Chinese media which is blasted in social and main media, shows that China wants to hold the line where they are now. The counter rhetoric from the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam, Australia, other neighboring countries, and the US shows that the battle lines are drawn, except that it is secondarily sidelined by the ongoing COVID pandemic. In fact, the Australian Prime Minister included the “drums of war” in his speech last month in relation to their conflict with China that led to a trade war/boycott of Australian goods in China, and cancellation of the belt and road projects of China in Australasia.

The Philippines has a huge stake in this West Philippine Sea confrontation because China already occupied some of the contested islands, is already fishing in its territorial waters, and even destroyed atolls and corals. The economic and financial damage to the Philippines are already in the hundreds of billions of dollars over the last 11 years, and China is eyeing the oil and other mineral resources in the area for further exploitation. Even the usually pro-China stance of the current administration has started to change their tune by hardening its position with China’s provocative actions. The military, most Cabinet secretaries/officials, and the senators/congressmen and the judiciary members are against the Chinese incursions. In the last public opinion poll, 77% of the Filipinos also object to Chinese invasion and want more government counter action, including joint maritime/naval exercises in the disputed area with the US and other allied forces. With the Philippine elections only a year away, Duterte and allies is now walking a tightrope on this issue, hoping for damage control. Presidential aspirant Pacquiao recently ended his silence, publicly asking China to remove their ships from the West Philippine Sea.

Beyond the economic/financial losses of the Philippines, and its loss of sovereign/territorial rights of the country’s islands, there are the larger global implications of China’s territorial expansionism. For the past 34 years, the democratic countries have allowed China to grow their economy unhampered by restrictions from the democratic countries. They were allowed to sell and trade, access property and intellectual rights, allowed into the universities and institutes, and access valuable information in the internet. These liberalities were never reciprocated by China as they maintained a highly-controlled and restrictive media, bureaucracy, and population. China had used the liberal ideas and practices of the democratic countries to expand their economy without giving their people the democratic and human rights and respecting the rights of the democratic countries. They bought their people’s rights with material prosperity, and they are trying to do this to the whole world by offering economic assistance, loans, and grants to the Asians, Africans, Latin Americans, and any country that they can convince.

Historical and geo-political forces evolve over longer time periods, so China’s current initiatives probability of success is fraught with uncertainties, given the strong pushback by many countries in the last seven years. I have always hoped that the current Chinese communist government had followed Prime Minister Deng Xiao Peng’s advice that China should never engage in hegemony when he initiated in the 1980s, the shift of China to a free-enterprise economy that led to China’s current prosperity.

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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