“If one day China should change her color and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world, and everywhere subject others to her bullying, aggression and exploitation, the people of the world should identify her as social-imperialism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.” ~ Deng Xiaoping speech at the United Nations, April 10, 1974
In less than a week, it will be April 10, 2014, or forty years to the day when China’s great leader and architect of its unstoppable march to superpower status said this speech. And the man who knew enough about human weakness, about the lust for power, himself a victim but persevered, would now be on the verge of a revolution to overthrow the Chinese government. For today, China is bullying, not just the Philippines, but almost every neighbor it has.
It matters little if China has a 9 Dash Line; it can be 10 for that matter. Any country is free to dream, even free to make claims no matter how absurd. But that freedom does not carry with it the license to bully, to use or threaten superior force, and actually grab territory that belongs to another nation. That is what China has done with Scarborough Shoal. This is what China wants to do with the Ayungin Reef. In both cases, threat and the use of superior force are the tools that China has decided to apply. It is China that has closed the door to bilateral negotiation and forced the Philippines to seek justice somewhere else.
Again, China is being reminded if it still has the capacity to listen, if arrogance has not blinded it from reason and the long history of two peoples with overwhelming blood ties. The Philippines is a small country that has only the warmth of its hospitality as its foremost character. Filipinos welcome others – not grab territory. But history has seen territory being grabbed from Filipinos, by the Spanish, by the British, by the Americans, and by the Japanese. History cannot point to Filipinos grabbing the territory of others.
It is not only the natural hospitality of Filipinos, it is also the size and war equipment of the country – meaning how limited these are. It is not just character that stops us from bullying others and grabbing their islands, it is also that Filipinos are not stupid. We love life, we are not suicidal, and we have endured being the conquered people because we avoid conflict, not look for it. I do not know if China realizes how ridiculous it sounds when it accuses the Philippines of initiating a conflict.
Officials or news agencies speaking for China obviously do not care about what their audience think or feel about what they say. China can use a little of the media freedom of the Philippines.
Deng Xiaoping was a political survivor, a visionary, a street-wise leader, and obviously was profound. He could not have led China out of the dark ages into the irreversible journey towards superpower status by simple brute force (he used that, too). He had power and he knew how to wield it, but he had shrewdness, precision, and wisdom, too. He knew China would be a superpower, and he tried to warn those who would succeed him, and the world at large, that China could get drunk with power.
Instead of internal propaganda that would have restrained China’s rapid transition from vassal to world leader, Deng simply pushed the transition even faster. But he took the stage in the United Nations, as if to allay fears that China would one day go haywire, and delivered a prophecy hidden China in a warning, “If one day China should change her color and turn into a superpower, if she too should play the tyrant in the world …. the people of the world should identify her as social-imperialism, expose it, oppose it and work together with the Chinese people to overthrow it.”
Deng did not give a message to China’s future leaders, he directed the message to the people of the world, to work directly to the people of China to overthrow the leadership of arrogance and tyranny. The wisdom of the veteran saw where China could go given its growing power, and that this rise to global superstardom could be restrained only by the wisest and firmest of leaders. Otherwise, only the people of the world helping the people of China could overthrow new Hitlers from China.
I would, then, suggest that Philippine officialdom and Filipino-Chinese tycoons review and reflect deeply on what Deng Xiaoping said and why he said it. No one knew his people, his country, and his co-Chinese leaders like himself. He could have said a million other things in that United Nations speech, but he honored his stature of global leadership, shared a far-reaching vision, predicted the probability of abuse of great power, and gave the most effective way of countering tyranny. In other words, if Deng were here today, he could be leading the implosion of China before the world united to shoot a mad dog.
Filipinos must not vent their anger at the Chinese people. It is with the Chinese people, and not the Chinese government, that we have long and deep ties, up to the blood in our veins. The Chinese people are just like the Filipino people, concerned about their families, concerned about health, education, livelihood, comfort, retirement. The Chinese people have not exhibited a desire for conflict and violence. They think and feel as we do.
But governments are exposed to power where people are not, and great power can corrupt and turn intelligence to arrogance. We must learn to distinguish between government and people, and, as Deng said, we must ally with the Chinese people to remove their own government once it becomes tyrannical. Deng’s wisdom was his gift to the world, if we know how to heed it.