Norberto Gonzales, national security adviser during the incumbency of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has rung alarm bells about a possible attack on the Philippines by China. This was his reaction to the co-exploration agreement signed by President Rodrigo Duterte and President Xi Jinping. Gonzales warned that the agreement is just another step in China’s covetous designs on the Philippines, characterized by its virtual occupation of Philippine territory in the South China Sea.
Gonzales also made the rather naïve comment that “China does not have a history of invading other countries, but it is not averse to using military might to settle territorial conflicts.”
Only half of Gonzales’s statement is accurate – that part about using military might. The fact is that China has a history of invading other countries, among them, Vietnam and Korea.
Ironically, the country that was once referred to as the Sleeping Giant has also been a victim of Western imperialism. And now that it has “awakened,” China is simply doing what comes naturally to superpowers, namely, domination of weaker countries, whether militarily, politically or economically.
Countries like the Philippines under Rodrigo “I will ride a jet ski” Duterte.
If naivete is to be attributed to anyone, Duterte would be it. That is, if he thinks he can outsmart the Chinese in his dealings with Xi, while clumsily playing the United States against its Asian rival. The harsh fact is that Duterte is a mere pawn in a contest for global dominance between the US and China. The duel is for economic dominance, at this stage. Hopefully, a fight for military dominance will not follow.
Duterte may not be familiar with the African proverb: “When elephants fight, the grass is trampled.” Or maybe he is. Maybe Duterte thinks he can reap substantial benefits from his dealings with the Chinese — and let the future generation of Pinoys bear the consequences.
It doesn’t take a fortune teller to foresee the consequences of Duterte’s eagerness to avail of infrastructure and development loans from China. What has happened to Sri Lanka is too recent for even an idiot to overlook.
To quote a New York Times report on the Sino-Sri Lanka case: “Every time Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, turned to his Chinese allies for loans and assistance with an ambitious port project, the answer was yes….Mr. Rajapaksa was voted out of office in 2015, but Sri Lanka’s new government struggled to make payments on the debt he had taken on. Under heavy pressure and after months of negotiations with the Chinese, the government handed over the port and 15,000 acres of land around it for 99 years in December.”
The Times story concluded: “The case is one of the most vivid examples of China’s ambitious use of loans and aid to gain influence around the world — and of its willingness to play hardball to collect.
“The debt deal also intensified some of the harshest accusations about President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative: that the global investment and lending program amounts to a debt trap for vulnerable countries around the world, fueling corruption and autocratic behavior in struggling democracies.”
An article in the British news magazine, The Week, by Ryan Cooper, entitled, “The Looming Threat of Chinese Imperialism,” warned, ”As China matures into a global superpower, matching and someday surpassing the United States in strength, it’s worth considering the future risk of Chinese imperialism.”
China is now the biggest single investor in Africa, and Chinese companies have been plunking billions into Latin America, as well as Europe and the US. According to the article by Cooper, China’s Belt and Road initiative, “a globe-spanning plan to smooth transport in and around Eurasia…is already one of the biggest infrastructure projects in world history well before completion. But many of the individual loans have been so improvident — the ones to Djibouti spiked its debt-to-GDP ratio by 85 percent — that future debt peonage or default for many states look likely.”
One could say that about the Philippines, too, under Duterte.
Of course, imperialist tendencies are not unique to China. Contemporary history tells us that the European powers and the United States have been among the most avaricious perpetrators of imperialism. And China has been among their victims. An editorial cartoon in Punch in 1899 depicts the US, Germany, the United Kingdom, Russia and Austria cutting up portions of China for themselves. One article described the partitioning of China as “slicing the country like a melon.”
It is ironic that China has been identified as the major source of drugs flooding the Philippines. In the early 1800s, British economic marauders launched the opium trade, flooding China with the drugs. When Chinese authorities tried to suppress the entry of the drugs, Britain went to war against China. That war was concluded with the treaty of Nanjing that resulted in Hong Kong being ceded to the UK.
Considering Duterte’s bloody war against drugs, does anyone expect him to warn the Chinese against flooding the Philippines with the illegal stuff, the way the Chinese tried to stop the British? Not unless Duterte wants the Chinese to declare war on the Philippines the way the Opium War was waged by the UK against China.
That will happen only when the crow turns white or when Duterte is converted to sainthood.
Meanwhile, Gonzales may be right about China’s designs on the Philippines. But China will not have to use military might, as Gonzales has warned. That could upset the United States and trigger a shooting war.
It will be a bloodless economic annexation.
Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.