Why, China, Why?

by Jose Ma. Montelibano


It never entered my mind that China, the new superpower of the world, would even think of bullying our small nation. For so long, experts on China would tell me on the long history of China not attacking its neighbors although often had itself attacked, invaded, conquered. I saw only the Tibet takeover of China, but China claimed that it had not attacked a neighbor – only reclaimed what was China’s in the first place.

When China suddenly, and irrationally, claims Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Reef) as theirs even though the shoal is less than 200 miles from the nearest Philippine shore and about 800 miles from the nearest Chinese counterpart shore, I did not know what to make of it. I say irrationally because the Philippines is already largely owned by Chinese-Filipinos, many of whom sourced goods, credit and capital from China. It did not seem useful, or even sane, for China to start provoking the Philippines when Chinese-Filipino businessmen, or Chinoys, dominate the Philippine economy.

Perhaps, I underestimated the awesome volume of strategic resources that lie under the waters within the 200 miles from Philippine shores. The oil and gas reserves that have been pinpointed as within Philippine jurisdiction represent value that is beyond the trillions of dollars they are worth when monetized; more than that, they represent fuel to drive the engines of factories. Simply put, they mean security.

Perhaps, I underestimated the newfound power of a giant of a country with over a billion people – and the natural superior valuation of itself over other nations. What would I understand about the possible resentment that China may have been felt as foreigners once divided Chinese territory like loot being shared? The revolution that Mao began may not be over in the minds and hearts of key Chinese leaders who want to do to others what was once done to them.

I remember the case of Great Britain when their isles were fodder for the invaders of mainland Europe for 1,500 years. It seemed every Tom, Dick and Harry of a country in the mainland had their turn in looting, raping and plundering the tribes in the British Isles.  But when Alfred the Great managed to make the warring tribes unite to fight the foreign invaders, he also triggered the birth of a powerful nation that then went on a conquering spree around the world.  The once conquered followed the footsteps of its previous masters and became the primary colonizer of the earth.

Or, perhaps, I know next to nothing about the internal power struggles of a superpower whose civilian leaders have not tamed their military counterparts. The Central Committee can be locked in a competition for power and perks with the PLO, at least according to experts who make it their profession to follow and study China. It seems corruption is a major issue even within the military, and any effort to cleanse their ranks of wayward officers is meeting stiff resistance.  A recent article claims that the hawks now control the PLO, and the PLO is the one dictating the aggressive incursions into, and claims of ownership over, islands that are part of Philippine territory.

It may very well be opposing mindsets within the power blocs in China that has made this superpower an enigma of sorts to Filipinos. Even as tensions rise in the West Philippine Seas, or the South China Seas as China will surely insist when referring to this body of water, China grants us billions in concessional loans for a dam. And I am sure there are many more projects that China has been not only cooperative in supporting the Philippines but actually generous.  So, we have a spectrum of views and attitudes within the ruling factions in China, and these find their confusing way to us.

I carry no rancor for China, or the Chinese. God knows how much Chinese blood has intermingled with our native strain, but I can safely say a lot. We are Asians, we have much more commonality than differences. And we are a small-sized country with a weak military capability if attacked by a superpower. There is no motivation for Filipinos to fight China.

At the same time, I am aware of what partisan politics can do to a nation. I do not have to look far. I do not have to read the history of nations to know just how destructive internal conflict can be not only for citizens of an affected country but to its international relations as well.  We have had decades of pro and anti-America sentiments that have led to divisiveness, and death, among Filipinos. The screaming rallyists who pounce on every possibility to go against a government they believe to be pro-American or elite-led have become unusually quiet in the face of China’s aggressive posturing over Philippine territory. If we can have diametrically opposing agenda here, why can it not happen to China?

It is most unfortunate, then, that we receive from China a contrast or contradictory set of attitudes and actions. That is a political reality, however, not much different from how Democrats and Republicans in the United States, especially during campaign periods, give the impression that they are two countries with such conflicting values and perspectives. We Filipinos just have to be prepared for everything, for the good and the bad, and survive no matter which kind of policy is applied to us at any time.

Today, there is urgency in preparing ourselves. We begin by being aware that our government will be as weak as we are as a people. That is what democracy is – that government reflects the people. If we want our government to be firm in its dealings with China, we as a people must first provide the government with our firmness.  Do we negotiate meekly or stubbornly?  Do we submit or do we fight? That is up to us.

Meanwhile, I can only ask, “Why, China, why?”

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