Commentary

No one can stop China in Spratlys but China or the power of world opinion

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No one can stop China from claiming “indisputable sovereignty” over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea)—except China itself or the authoritative power of world opinion.

Short of war, a war nobody wants or would wish, even the United States can only delay or impede the fulfillment of China’s inordinate ambition to gain sovereign control of 3 million square kilometers of this great inland sea that is also Southeast Asia’s maritime heartland.

This is the strategic context of China’s assertive ambiguity in the West Philippine Sea.

Just now, Beijing can only bluster and intimidate, as it probes for weaknesses in its rival claimants.

But once China can translate its economic power into military capability credible enough to challenge that of the United States—when the “time is right” in China’s terms—then the geopolitical configuration in the Asia-Pacific region will change radically.

And time and circumstances favor China. Analysts say China is likely to become the world’s largest economy in a decade or so.

If they are right, the Philippines has only 10 short years to prepare for what is likely to become an interesting Asia-Pacific future.

Long-term security

Given the constraints under which it’s working, the administration of President Benigno Aquino has so far done all that could possibly be done, in the short term, to defend our nation’s interests in the West Philippine Sea.

But in this case it’s not enough to deal with the immediate problem. Our nation’s long-term security hangs in the balance.

And to ensure our safety, we must look at the root of our nation’s security, which lies in our people—in everyone of us and nobody else.

If our country is to prevail in any challenge, if the Philippines is to become worthy of respect as a sovereign nation, we must first of all enable our people to become effective wealth creators.

We must make our country rich enough to enable us to acquire the means to defend our nation’s interests, to protect our people’s dignity and honor.

Nationhood infrastructure

To carry out the government’s strategies, policies, plans and programs to grow and develop the nation, we must strive urgently to create the four conditions necessary for growth and development.

Let us make no mistake, without these, the nation can hardly enforce its Constitution and its laws, and no development plan can succeed:

1. We must come to terms with ourselves. We must build among us the infrastructure of nationhood. We must be able to answer the basic question of who we are.

We must live the core values our forebears fought and died for: Dignity, honor, freedom, justice, self-determination, hard work, discipline, tolerance, mutual caring and compassion.

We must become a people at peace with themselves and with the world.

There is nothing our people cannot accomplish, if our identity and the goals we seek are articulated in terms of the core values taught us by our heroes and martyrs.

These core values define what is right or wrong for our people. They guide us, like our heroes and martyrs, to live only when it is right to live, and to die only when it is right to die.

2. No matter what it takes, we must end our internal wars. Our radical insurgency is kept alive by our grievous inequality and the elemental injustice of mass poverty. And both are caused by corruption and misgovernment.

The same is true of our separatist conflict in Mindanao. There popular frustrations are worsened by rivalries over land and livelihood, and the situation is complicated by ethnic and religious enmities.

3. We must complete all the land and nonland reforms we still need to do. Not only will their completion make rebellion, separatism and mutiny irrelevant but will also accelerate our nation’s growth. And, finally, it will unite our people.

4. We must transfer the power of the few over the state to the people as citizens. In the World Bank’s view, we are a country where state policies and their implementation serve not the common good but those of special interests.

The capture of the state and its regulatory agencies by vested interest groups has made our economy the least competitive among comparable economies in East Asia.

In sum, we must put our house in order. We must level our popular playing field to grow and develop the nation—and so enable our people to surmount any challenge.

No luxury of time

As we create the four conditions necessary for growth and development, we must also carry out our development plans. Given the uncertainties building up in East Asia, we do not have the luxury of time.

It is the Chinese people’s historic sense that is driving their country’s rise. They count their recovery from generations of humiliation at the hands of the great powers as lasting 150 years starting from the initial European effort to open up China around 1800.

In 1949, Mao Zedong proclaimed China had stood up. But China began to recover economically only after Deng Xiaoping’s reforms (1978). In three and a half decades, China has become the world’s second largest economy.

We, too, must tap into our people’s sense of nationality—and do no less. By creating the four conditions necessary for growth and development that I cited above, and by simultaneously carrying out the government’s development plans, we can change our country—we can modernize it without leaving anyone behind—during the next 10 years.

By that time, we will also have nurtured the inclusive institutions that will sustain our people’s capacities for wealth creation.

No primrose paths

Let us not delude ourselves. There are no short cuts—no primrose paths—to growth and development. We must never give up even if our country’s rise takes 150 years or more.

We have no choice. The alternative is too dire to contemplate.

We must work together to prevent the situation developing that reduces our country into a tributary, a vassal, a province of a great power.

Those who sacrificed and died for us and for generations yet to come will never forgive us if we fail to summon the courage and the will to take the radical steps toward the Filipino future: To deliberately put in place the four conditions necessary for growth and development without delay.

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