China: must we be afraid of it?

The controversy over the South China Sea issue, particularly the loss of the Scarborough Shoal to the Chinese in 2012, has dominated public discussion during the last several months as the opposition tried to pressure President Rodrigo Roa Duterte to assert its rights as laid down in the International Arbitral Court ruling three years ago.

The opposition has painted a picture of a leader who showed subservience to the Chinese in that instead of adopting a strong position in seeking the enforcement of the ruling, President Duterte took the path of friendship with President Xi Jinping since he assumed office on June 30, 2016.

Retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio has been the most vocal critic of the President’s “soft” stance regarding the South China Sea issue. He accused President Duterte of “selling the country’s sovereignty” to China. He and his colleagues in the opposition are trying to spread the fear of China among Filipinos. The Scarborough Shoal episode is just the prelude to China ultimately trying to swallow the Philippines into its fold.

This fear-mongering is unfounded. China is not in the business of gobbling up new territory. What it is doing is translate its relatively new economic power into military might to strengthen its security position. Of course it is understandable why its neighbors are apprehensive. Throughout modern history, the whole world has gotten used to regarding the United States as the sole superpower with the capability to keep the status quo on security and stability.

The sudden emergence of China as a military power has upset that status quo. And its incursions into the South China Sea is being viewed by the U.S.-led partnership in the Asia Pacific as a serious threat to the region’s security. Already, China has created artificial islands in the SCS and positioned naval and air assets. This has extended the reach of China’s military might to the doorsteps of Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and, of course, the Philippines.

This is a most unwelcome development for the United States. It has always projected itself as the unrivaled military power in the Asia-Pacific after Japan surrendered at the end of the second world war. All of a sudden, it is seeing a peer competitor as a regional hegemony emerging from the shadows. Its ability to freely roam the seven seas is now facing a possible obstacle.

But as political science Professor John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago put it, China is merely imitating what the U.S. has been doing for over a century now: it is seeking to become a regional hegemony. The U.S. has done that in the western hemisphere. And during the last century, the U.S. has been instrumental in making sure four nations that had the potential to become hegemons — Imperial Germany, Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union — would collapse. The U.S. does not like competition.

Is there anything sinister in China’s intentions?

According to Prof. Kishore Mahbubani, what China wants to do is avoid the harsh experiences of the “century of humiliation”. It learned that being a weak China made it vulnerable to exploitation and abuse from more powerful states. It was a victim of the United States, United Kingdom and Japan in the past. This imbued the Chinese leadership with a strong and unwavering drive to become an economic giant, and with it, military might, so that never again will it be subjugated.

Indeed, China has behaved quite well as it grew in leaps and bounds during the last four decades when Deng Xiaoping opened its doors to the world. From a poverty stricken country, it quickly transformed into what is now arguably the most powerful economy that comes a close second to the U.S.

Prof. Mearsheimer believes turning that economic power into military might is only a logical move on the part of China. With its economic gains that breathed prosperity into the lives of its 1.4 billion people, China wants to make sure no other nation can take that away from them. There is no better way to accomplish that than building a military that will deter any aggression toward them.

China wants to be a good neighbor and a global citizen. It is only the United States that now wants to depict this nation as evil the way it did with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

From the viewpoint of the Philippines, it makes for sound foreign policy to befriend China. The irritants brought about by its take-over of the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 should not put a bile taste into our attitude towards them.

The Philippine government should adopt a pragmatic approach. Our experience with the U.S. hasn’t been pleasant. While we have a mutual defense treaty with the Americans, it has failed to demonstrate that it is a sincere ally that is looking after our interests. The U.S. has exploited our friendship with them in a lopsided manner: the scale has tipped heavily in their favor.

As we have seen in the past, we almost have to beg for military aid to crush the communist insurgency. More than that, the U.S. has tried to interfere with our domestic affairs. This was apparent when President Duterte launched an all-out war against illegal drugs; the Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked military sales to the Philippines because they accused him of human rights violations. It puts into serious question on whether the U.S. indeed wants the communist insurgency to end. (30)

About Manuel "Boy" Mejorada
Manuel "Boy" Mejorada is a journalist and social media activist. A former Iloilo provincial administrator, he is now waging a crusade against corruption and narco-politics.

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