Geography and geopolitics

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

| Image by Babelia via Wikimedia Commons

Today’s global and local circumstances are putting the world and the Philippines on edge. We are all in the throes of empire-building by a few nations and the desperate attempts to stop them by others. The most foolish of all is to imagine that we Filipinos, especially, are free and independent enough to dance in the middle of a collision course and get away with it.

On the surface, at the most visible and shallow layers, we have been experiencing a decade of bullying from China. Using superior numbers and naval resources, China takes control of waters and islets well within the territorial limits of the Philippines. It blocks out fishermen from fishing.

In our waters and harasses our navy when it tries to patrol our territory.

But as China showed its utter disregard for our territorial rights, I was shocked at how many of our leaders were kowtowing to an invader. The most common reason for official subservience was the size and superiority of China versus our terribly outmanned military and navy.

It does sound practical. With the odds totally against us in case of an armed conflict, accepting the abuse of China seemed the only way to go. However, that approach is only for simpletons or cowards. Vietnam, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, and Malaysia are all smaller in size and military might than giant China. Yet, their hearts have the great resolve to fight for their waters and territories.

Obviously, our other neighbors have more courage and sense than us. They know their military resources are much smaller, but they also know that a bully can be confronted in more ways than one. They know that alliances can be made and, in unity, can be more than competitive, even superior. They used only simple intelligence to reach that conclusion, not any outstanding genius. Intelligence is callable on demand when leaders have no personal agenda greater than the interests of their people.

Awareness of the superior strength of a giant nation such as China is a sign of intelligence. Being cautious is natural, even carrying some fear. Our leaders, however, cannot allow caution and fear to paralyze them, much less make cowards of them. The worst of all is to exploit the normal caution and fear of citizens in exchange for pieces of silver or crates of them. That is a special sin and crime called treason.

I am told that any citizen who can read and write and is not convicted of a crime that disqualifies them from holding public office can be a candidate, even for the presidency. I am not necessarily against that because that electoral provision has some good basis, in fact. I do hope, though, that our highest public officials are capable of learning, grasping, and analyzing critical data that are strategic and can mean the survival or destruction of our country.

First, national leaders must understand geography – not only ours but especially that of the world. Then, they have to understand the history and cultural patterns that heavily influence the mindset of leaders of other nations. Third, they must always put national interests above, way above, their own or their families so that they can process crucial events and questions with less inner conflict. Finally, they must have the will and the courage to do what is best for the nation.

“The only direction of geopolitics today is conflict and war. There are only two unanswered questions today. One is when and how far from today. The other is what we need to do in the Philippines and our neighbors in the ASEAN. Neutrality is not an option because our neutrality or partisanship is not the deciding factor.”

I take a more conservative view of the near future. I monitor and try to appreciate the most delicate and dangerous developments with the greatest impact on our country. I do that less to prepare myself (due to my senior years) but the generations after my own, where my children and grandchildren belong. This is no longer a matter of annual GDP growth, not with current events, but destruction and survival. Surveys of approval or popularity of our officials are secondary, maybe largely irrelevant. More critical is what they know or the little they do.

Optimism or skepticism about the future will influence the directions and programs for development. Plans and programs, though, change dramatically when conditions shift from stability to turbulence, from peace to war. Someone started the war, but the impact of war is paid by everybody, the invaders, the victims, and the rest of the world if the war involves many nations. Ask Ukraine. Ask even Russia.

We are relatively far from the Russian war on Ukraine, but China is Russia’s neighbor and shares a common antipathy against the Western powers. When China gets involved, we get involved. Not that we already do not have our own special problem with China’s appetite for expansionism with the use of superior force – we kindly call it “bullying,” but it is worse. China has a shared region and history with Japan, Vietnam, and the two Koreas. They will be involved, too.

The Philippines is part of the ASEAN. We share with ASEAN common waters around each country except for the totally land-locked. China’s 9-dash line simply claims it all – regardless. But the waters that China wants to say belong to it are used not only by Asian nations but the whole world. Therefore, to keep those waters free from China’s control, other deeply affected nations will also come and protect their interests.

The only direction of geopolitics today is conflict and war. There are only two unanswered questions today. One is when and how far from today. The other is what we need to do in the Philippines and our neighbors in the ASEAN. Neutrality is not an option because our neutrality or partisanship is not the deciding factor. It is China’s intent to expand; then it is everybody else’s intent to accommodate or resist.

I know there are other concerns that especially trouble Filipinos. These, too, should be resolved. Let us go ahead and address them. But all the time, remember the horizon in Asia, remember the horizon of the world.

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