Change Without Conflict

by Juan L. Mercado


“Talk does not cook rice,” says  a Chinese  proverb.  President  Benigno Aquino met  with  China ’s vice foreign minister Fu Ying  in Malacanang  last  Friday.  It’d be naïve to expect  instant solutions  to tense Philippine-China disputes  from one meeting..

“ (We) agreed continued cooperation  serves the interest of both countries,”  the lady vice minister said  thru the Chinese Embassy in Manila . Both would  promote bilateral exchanges from trade, science to people-to-people links.

Jaw-jaw is better than war-war. Only  last  April, Philippine and Chinese vessels faced off at the Panatag Shoals.  Restraint  prevented bloody  clashes similar to those  between Vietnamese and Chinese ships over the Paracels.

For the first  time in 45 years,  Association of  Southeast Asian Nations failed to issue it’s traditional annual  statement. Reliant on Beijing largesse, Cambodia  blocked even oblique communiqué reference to the issue.      

Over half ( 55%) of adult Filipinos had “little trust” in China , Social Weather Stations  reported  in it’s  May 2012 survey. “ China ‘s lowest net trust score of -36  was first reached in June 1995, during the Mischief Reef confrontation.’

We  can not  alter geography.  Our grandchildren  will  live cheek-by-jowl with  Chinese next door.  It is essential  we understand better  the country and it’s rulers. “Near neighbors are better than distant cousins,” a Filpino axiom says.

Insights may be culled from a recent forum on China at the Woodrow Wilson Center , a Washington-bashed think tank.  Former US  Secretary of  State Henry Kissinger, now 89, anchored the forum.

In  July 1971, Kissinger secretly met China ’s  Zhou En Lai. That  led to  a summit meeting between President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Ze Dong, ending 23 years of diplomatic isolation for Beijing — and China ’s rise.

Kissinger’s new book “On  China”  also  provides additional observations relevant to Filipinos.  Here are excerpts.

“Historians say China is now a rising country and we (in the US) are a status quo country,” Kissinger said. (Rather)  China is a country returning to what it believes it has always been, namely, the center of  Asian affairs.

The  Chinese state has always been surrounded by a multiplicity of states.  Management of  “barbarians” has been a principle necessity of  Chinese foreign policy.  China does not proselytize,claiming  its institutions “are relevant outside China ,” as the US does. Yet, Beijing  grades “all other states as various levels of tributaries, based on their approximation to Chinese cultural and political forms.”

China managed to stagger through 3,800 years of  as “the most continuous state,  without  aid  from the outside…. It  is  inevitable that a rising  China will impinge on the US, and countries next door.

“We shouldn’t think of  China as a dictatorial government.  It’s a one-party state. It’s an authoritarian government. It’s more similar to Mexico   before its final transformation. I think it will be more transparent.  The  legal system will be more predictable.

But huge adjustments  have  to (be)  made….One must  remember, Mao Ze Dong could give orders. The current leaders must operate by consensus, at least of the  Standing  Committee.”

President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao “presided over a country that no longer felt constrained by  a  sense of apprenticeship to Western technology and institutions.” And the 2008 economic meltdown “seriously undermined the mystique of Western economic prowess”

These prompted a “new tide of opinion in China , among the vocal younger generation of students,  Internet users and  possibly in portions of  political and military leadership. (They) feel   a fundamental shift in the structure of the international system  is  taking place.”

Kissinger is a  hardheaded apostle of realpolitik.  After  9/11, “China remained an agnostic bystander to American projection of power across the Muslim world…Beijing retained its characteristic willingness to adjust to changes in alignments of power and in the composition of foreign governments without passing a moral judgment.”

The brutal Tiananmen Square crackdown puzzled  the  Chinese.  “They could not understand why the US  took umbrage at an event that  injured no American material interests. And China claimed no validity outside its own territory.”

Kissinger is “chillingly cavalier” about  tens of millions of people who lost their lives during Mao’s years in power, Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, New York Times noted.  “Nixon complimented Mao on having transformed an ancient civilization”.  Mao replied: ‘I haven’t been able to change it. I’ve only been able to change a few places in the vicinity of Beijing .’

For some,  “the tremendous suffering Mao inflicted on his people will dwarf his achievements.” But  Kissinger delivers this cold- blooded rationalization: “If China remains united and emerges as a 21st-century superpower,” many Chinese may come to regard him as they do the early emperor Qin Shihuang, “whose excesses were later acknowledged by some as a necessary evil.”

In the end, Kissinger votes for national security über alles — a poke at the thick German accent that this diplomat never shed. China and the US have a common interest creating  a “Pacific community”, along lines of the successful  Atlantic community. 

All Asian nations could then participate in a joint endeavor rather than a contest of rival Chinese and American blocs. Leaders on both Pacific coasts would “establish a tradition of consultation and mutual respect,” making a shared world order “an expression of parallel national aspirations.”


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