China is a greatly misunderstood giant

With an economy that grew phenomenally in a brief span of four decades, China has emerged upon the global scene as a giant that has matched wealth with a powerful military. It is now the number two largest economy in the world, with the United States holding on to that position rather precariously. Hence, it is easy to understand why the U.S. and its neighbors feel great discomfort as this combined economic and military power keeps growing. Unless the Chinese economy is stalled, it will overtake the U.S. as the biggest economy in the world.

This has led to rising tensions in U.S.-China relations, with the frightening prospect of this ending in armed confrontation, particularly in the South China Sea and Taiwan. Everybody agrees that war, even on a limited scale, can bring about disastrous consequences. Because of this, experts on U.S.-China relations espouse caution to American policy makers as it struggles to maintain a delicate balance between its need to stay the most powerful nation on the planet and peace. The task becomes difficult because recent U.S. rhetoric, especially during the Trump presidency, demonized China’s intentions.

The Panda bear best describes the size and temperament of China. It is huge but meek. It is not known to be aggressive on human beings. Indeed, there has been no instance in its history when China became an aggressor state. On the other hand, it came under foreign domination several times in the past, the most recent of which was the Japanese invasion during World War II. Even in dealing with break-away province, Taiwan, the mainland Chinese have demonstrated restraint for more than half a century now. Except for the occasional harassment against their estranged province, there has been nothing close to a forcible retaking of Taiwan. At least, up to until now.

With this in mind, we should not allow American scare tactics to put a barrier between our country and China. The Scarborough Shoal issue remains a thorn on our relations, but it does not lock the door on a peaceful resolution that will benefit both sides. If China has reclaimed shoals and reefs in the South China Sea, it is not because of a long-range military plan to expand its territory in the Asia-Pacific. The putting up of military installations on their reclaimed islands are not much different to the United States having bases in Japan and South Korea. China simply wants to build an adequate security barrier to shield the mainland from any security threat.

It’s really amazing how China has continued to grow despite American efforts to contain its economy with tariffs and sanctions such as the ban on Huawei from the U.S. market. During the year 2020, China shrugged off the ill effects of Covid 19 to continue grow at a fast pace of 8-9%. The technological ban imposed by then US President Donald Trump two years ago may have hurt China, but not for long. David Goldman, an economist and China watcher, observed that the economies of the U.S. and China were about the same size. He made that assessment two years ago. “But China is growing at twice the speed of the U.S.,” he said. That gives us a better understanding of the power dynamics we are seeing in China.

This brings me to the tough decision that President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has to make about the country’s relations with China. Early in his term, President Duterte showed openness to friendship with China. But the issue about the Scarborough Shoal put pressure on him to lean back and rethink about developing closer ties with China. The propaganda being thrown about depicts China as a territory-hungry behemoth that will ultimately devour the Philippines. President Duterte is being labeled as a “puppet” of the Chinese.

We need to look at the situation with pragmatic eyes. The Philippines has something every powerful nation on earth now wants to gain access to: vast oil and natural gas reserves underneath the South China Sea that fall within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Aside from that, the South China Sea is a vital sea lane where billions of dollars worth of goods pass through every year. Almost all countries would want that shipping lane to remain free to international trade and commerce. This is a reason why the U.S. and other Western nations are apprehensive about China putting up military installations along that route. If China shuts down the shipping lane, all hell will break loose in the global economy.

Rather than provoke China, we might be able to approach the situation with an open mind toward a mutually-beneficial development of the SCS gas and oil reserves. The worst thing China would want to see now is the Philippines going back to the embrace of the United States. That will only alarm them, for a strengthening of the US-PH military alliance is certain to be viewed as a hostile threat. And that will deprive our nation of the economic benefits that can be derived from an early exploitation of the SCS gas and oil reserves.

If such a partnership is achieved, China will feel less nervous about external threats and focus its attention to its goal about continued economic growth to bring prosperity to the lives of its 1.4 billion population. The grand strategy of China is centered on “rejuvenation” after having surmounted its “survival” phase. A joint exploration and development of the SCS will forge stronger economic ties between China and PH and contribute to lowering the tensions in the region. The key word, indeed, is cooperation. And even the U.S. will stand to gain from changing its outlook about China and treat it as an equal in world affairs.

A climate of security and stability in the SCS will put the Philippines at the doorstep of the world’s fastest growing economy. It is not too hard to see Filipinos will reap from that unique position, something that we did not experience when we were loyal allies of the Americans.

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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