A STRONGER relationship with China would benefit the Philippines. We have to breach the wall that divides us from our giant neighbor. To achieve this, we must first fully understand what stands between us and them. Only then can we slowly progress in building an alliance that will serve the best interest of our country.
THE biggest hindrance we face in establishing closer ties with China is our fear of offending the United States, which has been our most important ally for many decades. Our history has shown a long series of glorious events that consistently prove that the Philippines and the US are the best of friends, both in peaceful times and in tumultuous periods, like World War II. When we were confronted with economic crises, like the 1997 Asian crisis that saw businesses collapsing and currencies falling, the US government readily extended their assistance to our beleaguered economy.
Many of our decision-makers would not risk being called disloyal to our great, longtime partner. It is commonly believed that the US can influence the political direction of our country in many ways. Electoral victories or defeats are perceived to be still managed by some clandestine US operations. Thus, it is considered wise to stay on the safe side of the political terrain where the American flag is hoisted.
Consciously or not, many of our economic, business and government leaders who studied in the best institutions in the West would understandably reach their decisions within the paradigm that would naturally—or, perhaps, emotionally—favor preserving our relationship with the US. We cannot be blamed for this attitude—or, as some may call it, bias. That’s because, in many ways, we have benefited from the American way of life and from the democratic values we share with the US. Our comfort zone lies with the US; it is basically difficult to stray away from it.
THE most obvious obstacle to having a better relationship with China is our country’s claims to reputedly mineral-rich islands in the West Philippine Sea. Both sides firmly believe in their own historic claims. Both countries have to protect their strategic economic interest in the disputed islands. Both nations have the national honor and pride to fight for.
As a consequence of this deadlock, an escalation of military buildup occurred. The capability and willingness of the claimants to engage in armed conflict is now being shown constantly. Joint military exercises among allies are frequently reported on in the media to convey their readiness to move beyond diplomatic solutions when it becomes necessary.
Perception of hostilities
ON both sides of the wall, people’s perception of these hostilities worsens the relationship between Manila and Beijing. In China they believe that our country is harassing, hurting and even killing Chinese citizens. The isolated crimes that some Chinese were unlucky to have fallen victim to were erroneously interpreted as an organized effort to retaliate against them. Such crimes were blown out of proportion to make them hate us more. They fail to appreciate the reality that millions of Chinese in our country live in prosperity and relative peace here. In fact, almost all successful businesses in our country are owned and managed by Chinese-Filipinos. Gone were the days when the Chinese were ridiculed and were restricted to pass only through Intramuros’s Parian gate. Today they are fully respected and even emulated as models of hard work and patience.
On the other hand, in our country today, the proliferation of illegal drugs is being blamed on the Chinese. There is this extreme view that China is inflicting massive damage on our society by encouraging drug addiction among our people, probably in the same way that, some believed, opium was used to ruin China during the 1800s.
OUR country’s best interest is paramount in fostering a deeper relationship with China. We must accept the fact that China can conveniently exist without us. We need China, economically and even socially. We must pursue a more stable and closer relationship with China without compromising our pride as a nation. We can achieve this without sacrificing our friendship with the US. Even the European allies of the US recognize that they need China.
President Aquino has already said we shall go back to making China a close friend. It is time to breach the wall.
Ariel Nepomuceno is the deputy commissioner for the enforcement group of the Bureau of Customs.