Being Right

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The deal with having lived long enough is it opens one beyond mere book learning. Take Martial Law of the 1970s, of which 75% of the Philippine population were born only after it was lifted (with a further 10% merely toddlers or in grade school when it was imposed). If that 85%’s knowledge of that era is exclusively based on biased material, then erroneous homogenous thinking is the result. Which makes the vociferous discarding of the experiences, benign or not, of those that actually went through those years utter foolishness.

LIVED EXPERIENCE
This should encourage us to ponder about something those already living and aware in the 1980s instinctively know: Forgotten now is the fact that around 40 years ago almost everybody concluded that the Japanese, beaten in World War II, were set to take over the world via global commerce. Tons of books, even movies (most famously Rising Sun, starring Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes, based on a book by Michael Crichton), either celebrated or were trepidatious over Japan’s “inevitable” hegemony.

But the inevitable did not happen, certain flaws within its economic system, exacerbated by a speculative asset price bubble, did Japan’s ambitions in.

CHINA CRISIS?
Which brings us to China, everybody’s acknowledged supposed next superpower, poised to take sole global leadership and wrest power away from the United States sometime halfway this century. And yet, it may surprise many to know that the Middle Kingdom’s presented condition is actually far more illusory than Japan’s was then.

Certain fundamental and inherent flaws within the Chinese system, either political or relatedly so, highlighted in recent times by floods and droughts, as well as a stupendously unwise and incompetent (not to mention tyrannical) lockdown zero-COVID policy, led the country to suffer from “energy shortages, disrupted river-based logistics, hit industrial production, and lowered agricultural yields” (“Mounting Problems Threaten to Dampen Xi’s Congress Victory,” The Diplomat, September 2022).

Yet, that is not even China’s worse problem. For a country that touted having a population of 1.3 to 1.4 billion: “A newly released revision of the United Nations Population Division’s demographic projections estimates that by the end of this century, China will no longer be the most populous country in the world. Perhaps even more surprising, according to the UN’s newest projections, China will be almost exactly half the size of India, which is expected to have 1.53 billion people, by 2100. To those who object that 2100 is too far off to be of practical relevance, by 2050, India, with 1.67 billion people, will already have around 300 million more people than China” (“A Shrinking China Can’t Overtake America,” Foreign Policy, July 2022). The foregoing is assuming China has not inflated its population numbers, which it most likely has. By some estimates, it would be lucky to have even a population of 700 million by the middle of this century.

Thus, the “unexpectedly rapid aging is slowing China’s economy, reducing revenues, and increasing government debt, with provinces cutting civil servants’ wages and infrastructure investment this year. Clearly, the population base that supported China’s strategic expansion is gone” (“Leaked Data Show China’s Population Is Shrinking Fast,” Project Syndicate, July 2022).

For context, the Philippine average age is 25.7 (with Filipinos under 30 constituting 57% of the population, those under 50 about 90%). China’s average age is 38.42 (with only around 35% under the age of 30).

A country which has just a little over half of its people under 45, the impact on its productivity, hence economy, is enormous — on it depends much needed “resources for global diplomacy, influence-building, and military investment will soon come under tremendous pressure from the need to fund more prosaic but inescapably necessary things, such as much more robust social security, national health insurance, and retirement systems.” Needless to say, that vanished due to China’s prolonged one-child, later two-child, policy.

FUEL, FOOD, AND THE MILITARY
Consideration must be given to the thought that a diminished or humbled China could make it an erratically dangerous player on the world stage. Yet that may not necessarily be the case: for one, its industries and resources heavily depend on the global trading system, which tilts toward and is regulated practically by the United States. It is highly dependent on foreign oil (China is the world’s biggest importer, putting its energy needs at the mercy of Saudi Arabia, Russia, and Iraq; and even the US, one of its fastest growing import markets) and imported food (China is the largest importer of agricultural products, particularly from the EU and US).

What of the vaunted Chinese military? To that a four-word response: Russia’s difficulty versus Ukraine. Unlike the Philippine military (and definitely the US’), for example, which has been in a state of constant conflict participation, the Chinese military, despite its vaunted resources (now threatened by a threatened economy), is basically untested. And isolated from the rest of the world’s security arrangements.

A GOOD TIME FOR A PHILIPPINE PIVOT
All the foregoing presents an opportunity (and necessity) to recalibrate Philippine foreign policy, to turn it away from its over-reliance on China, and thus make it truly independent. Nevertheless, foreign policy is merely an extension of the domestic, and thus the following possible directions:

• Revive the ROTC for college-level youth but supplemented by mandatory military service requirement (one or two years) akin to that of Singapore and which could (like Singapore) apply to the 20-35 age group, plus another program for those older and up to 50 years of age.

• Refashion a defense posture taking advantage of the fact that our territory is made up of separate and disparate islands and that those islands are then divided internally by numerous rivers, lakes, hills, caves, and other land features. The point therefore is to organize our defense forces to work with a national command, if available, but capable of quickly and readily adapting to independent guerilla efforts on a per region or district basis. Essentially, the policy is attrition.

To facilitate this, our Self-Reliant Defense Posture (SRDP) program should be calibrated around this policy, with armament and transportation manufacturing and purchases reflecting the type of defense planning advocated here: producible en masse, mobile, easily hidden, and interchangeable.

• For such SRDP, the Departments of National Defense (DND), and Trade and Industry can work on developing local industries for that purpose. One huge consideration is the sourcing and storing of fuel and minerals used as raw materials for whatever equipment is necessary for a credible defense effort.

• The DND could work with the Department of Information and Communications Technology to develop a group that will focus on defensive and offensive computer expertise and technology.

• The Philippine Competition Commission could increase emphasis on monitoring and regulating foreign ownership in industries vital to national security.

• The National Food Authority should emphasize stockpiling of food and other related resources, viewed to include readiness in food supplies in case there is indeed a need to shift to a highly prolonged defense effort (or even natural calamities).

There is also the need to cooperate with our traditional allies in the protection of maritime commerce, for which additional security arrangements, as well as greater engagement in international trade, would be critical.

A huge opening and opportunity are available for the Philippines, conditioned however on the ability to harness its human and natural resources ably and with dignity. And assuming, of course, we can accurately identify what our national interests truly are.

 

Jemy Gatdula is a senior fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence

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