Commentary

Which country is the ‘hoodlum’?

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Was that Beijing blogger who labeled the Philippines “a hoodlum country” serious when he urged his government to “use force” to settle the territorial dispute in the South China Sea? And wasn’t Manila entertainer Jim Paredes being facetious in saying that Filipinos should claim Hong Kong’s Statue Square?

Do the overheated exchanges between the two countries’ bloggers border on the infantile? Are Chinoy media commentators and Pinoy columnists overdoing the threats and pontification? Why did I think of a Marx Brothers scenario when the Philippines yanked out the Chinese flag that had been planted on the Spratly Islands some months ago? Isn’t the wrangling over a bunch of shoals (defined in the dictionary as sandbars) a fatuous tit-for-tat game? Isn’t it reminiscent of that kid’s game where one person slaps a hand over the back of his opponent’s hand while the other slaps his over it, with the hand-over-hand slapping continuing until one party tires?

Did announcer He Jia of state-run CCTV in Beijing, who declared early this month that “We all know that the Philippines is China’s inherent territory,” misspeak on purpose, or was she parroting the claim by Chinese officials that the islands in question are “an indisputable part of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”? Did her muted apology evaporate into space?

Did Beijing’s pronouncement that China is “prepared to respond to any escalation if Manila engages in more provocations” confirm suspicions among Pinay helpers in Hong Kong that they’re gradually being eased out because more Indonesian women are now being hired as servants in the territory?

Will Hong Kongers and mainland Chinese fulminate forever over President Aquino’s refusal to apologize for the deaths of eight Hong Kong tourists during the 2010 bus hijacking at Rizal Park? Was that a reverberating raspberry response across the sea to his admission that “things could have been handled better”?  Are there really “bacteria problems” in Philippine fruit, as Beijing’s quarantine department claims, which is why they’ve stopped banana imports?

Isn’t this territorial imbroglio somewhat reminiscent of the war Britain waged against Argentina over the Falkland Islands in 1982, when Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent her country’s mighty fleet to crush the Latinos? Was Thatcher in the wrong because the Falkland Islands are right next door to Argentina, with Britain half a continent away? Or was that formidable prime minister right in that all of the Falklands’ inhabitants said they preferred to remain British?  Wasn’t there a joke then about that war being like a squabble between two bald men fighting over a comb?

Now that Manila commentators are using “West Philippine Sea” instead of South China Sea, can China be stopped from altering its maps? While it’s obvious that the Scarborough Shoal lies just to the left of Luzon and the Spratly Islands are right next door to Palawan (and closer to Vietnam than to China), where is the United Nations’ Law of the Sea now that it’s needed?  Does the wrangling just boil down to the possibility of finding oil in the disputed areas?

Is anyone concerned that the Philippine Navy is puny compared to China’s? Aren’t most of our ships and military hardware second-hand stuff, courtesy of the US government? Is the Pinoy dream of being a plucky David to China’s greedy giant realistic?

Wasn’t it another Chinese blogger who said that if every Chinese person spat, the Philippines would drown? Didn’t that remind me of finding, when I first came to Hong Kong in the early 1980s, the locals spitting everywhere?  Didn’t the British colony then seem like one big spittoon?  Wasn’t it the late writer Anthony Burgess who described hawking and spitting as “the national sound” made by overseas Chinese?

Didn’t my late mother tell us stories about her Chinoy lolo who washed up in Tayabas from impoverished Amoy, cut off his queue, changed his name to Samson and learned to speak Spanish?  Didn’t he do well by marrying a savvy Pinay, setting up a business and producing 10 children—one of them my grandmother who spoke and sang beautiful Spanish?

Will the verbal assaults keep ricocheting across the ocean while politicians on both sides ignore more pressing problems on land? Is the issue more about human perversity than nationalist pride?  Who knows?

Isabel Escoda is a freelance journalist based in Hong Kong.

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