Asian Century Journal

An Asian Century Philippines Publication

The Challenge to Bongbong on PH-China Relations: Call A Spade A Spade

By Mauro Gia Samonte

“Critical engagement with China would be the way to go. And President Marcos already knows that this response is being enhanced at all levels… Dalawa lang naman ang alternatibo mo, eh. You continue to talk or you go to war. I’m sure the other alternative, hindi natin option yun. You continue to talk. Siyempre, hindi pa natin alam ang laman niyan.”

Thus has National Security Adviser (NSA)-designate Clarita R. Carlos seemed to have earned the approval of those seriously promoting the advancement of Philippines-China understanding. It does appear at a glance that such an attitude is a plus sign for China in its standing with the Philippines, unlike those being manifested by traditional Amboys such as Jay Batongbacal, Richard Heydarian, Albert del Rosario, Antonio Carpio, and US media mouthpieces Rappler and Vera Files who make no bones about their espousal of American interests in the Philippines at each opportunity. But herein actually lays the danger.  For being contraposed to what are outright pro-American advocacies, the Carlos crooning is extremely prone to being mistaken for the genuine melody. Is it?

By “critical,” the assumption is that the party to whom that attitude is directed is more or less in the wrong and the party doing it is a victim of such wrongdoing. Where has China gone wrong in its relations with the Philippines? The worst that can be attributed to China in this respect is the perceived victory of the Philippines against it in the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling. But as Carlos herself has asserted in various interviews, that ruling was just a piece of paper and that the Philippines has gained nothing from it.

In other words, about the only dispute the Philippines has with China is its claims over certain areas of the South China Sea over which China has historical proofs of sovereignty. For settling this dispute, China consciously rejects the idea of confrontation but has offered the avenues of consultation and cooperation – not just with the Philippines, in fact, but with the rest of the ASEAN nations through the ASEAN Code of Conduct. This code has been under painstaking discussions between China and the ASEAN nations over the past several years and is expected to be operational shortly. Only the threat of intervention by the recently-formed Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) military alliance appears to be a stumbling block for the ASEAN code of conduct. But firmly adhering to the vision of a world community of shared future, China perseveres in President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which now accounts for the economic development of two thirds of the world, encompassing nations in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

To be sure, no critical engagement can be pursued between nations on a non-belligerent status. The very laws of contradiction must deny this. In a contradiction, two contradictory aspects, the thesis and the antithesis, collide and the collision results in a new relationship, called the synthesis. It is the context of thesis-antithesis relationship that the idea of “critical engagement” can take place – precisely to bring about the needed synthesis.

But the relationship of China and the Philippines from way, way back in time has always been extremely friendly. At the risk of being overly redundant, it will be cited that long before the coming of the Spaniards, Sultan Paduka Pahala of the Sultanate of Sulu embarked on a voyage to Beijing with a fleet of 300 ships. The Sultan and his entourage were feted by the Chung Le Chinese Emperor with the grandeur and splendor of a state visit, and when the Sultan unfortunately died on the way home down the Mekong River, his family decided to bury his remains in Shandong where to this day stands as a tourist attraction the five-hectare burial grounds for the Sultan.

Unlike the United States of America, the United Kingdom and the Dutch which at one time or another had embarked on wars of aggression against the Philippines, China had made none. To this day, China has manifested no intention of ever aggressing on the Philippines.

Where, then, does a Philippine policy of “critical engagement” with China figure? It does figure nowhere else than within the incessant pro-America propaganda by traditional Amboys against China over the South China Sea dispute. “Critical engagement” can be a clever sleight of the hand executed by the United States in order to advance its designs over the South China.

Briefly stated, “critical engagement” ultimately makes the Philippines at odds at one degree or another with China, a scheme that cannot but ultimately achieve the aim of paving the way for America – because of the various defense  treaties  that bind the Philippines to the United States – to intervene militarily against China.   

This then must comprise the early challenge to President Bongbong Marcos Jr: On the PH-China relationship, have the courage to call a spade a spade. China has never been a Philippine enemy; China has always been a friend from time immemorial. Whatever animosity is being promoted between China and the Philippines has always been the South China Sea dispute alone, and this is an evil handiwork by the United States as a last desperate attempt to establish hegemony in the Indo-Pacific region. On the question of national security, no danger whatsoever emanates from China. As I have written in my book, China The Way, The Truth and the Life, “No nation wars against itself.” How would Chinese nuclear missiles, for instance, distinguish between the Filipinos and Chinese nationals who by latest estimate comprise 30 million of the present 100 million Philippine population. If at all, the forward military bases which China has been accused of establishing practically surrounding the Philippines may in fact constitute fortresses by which to effectively deter the real aggression being constantly threatened by America and its western cohorts (again, citing AUKUS for example).

In every epoch of history, once a social system gets institutionalized in one section of the world, all the rest of the world just gets assimilated into that system. Thus when capitalism became institutionalized as a result of the French Revolution in 1848, all the feudal systems the world over just had to simply assimilate into the capitalist system. The Katipunan Revolt of 1896 was triggered by the extreme oppression and exploitation of the Philippine indios under the hacienda system implemented by the Spanish friars for production of hemp, copra, sugar and tobacco to feed the capitalist industries of Europe. With the fall of the feudal czarist regime in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, the socialist system was established which shortly assimilated the whole of otherwise capitalist Eastern Europe in the socialist bloc called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); the Soviet influence reached nations in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In the Philippines, the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas was established by Crisanto Evangelista in 1930 after schooling for the purpose in the Soviet Union.  And with the downfall of the USSR as a result of the glasnost perestroika by Mikhael Gorbachev, world socialism came into the single cradle of the People’s Republic of China. This is history’s telling us that all the rest of the systems of the world will, sooner or later, just gently ride the Chinese cradle of a world community of shared future.

Talking about the Philippines executing a “critical engagement” with China is nothing but pure and simple play at demagoguery; it is out of tune with the hard realities of historical materialism.

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