Change without conflict
“Talk does not cook rice,” says a Chinese proverb. President Benigno Aquino met with China’s Vice Foreign Minister Fu Ying in Malacañang last Friday. It’d be naïve to expect instant solutions to tense disputes between the Philippines and China from one meeting.
“(We) agreed continued cooperation serves the interest of both countries,” the lady vice minister said through the Chinese Embassy in Manila. Both would promote bilateral exchanges in various forms—from trade to science to people-to-people links.
Jaw-jaw is better than war-war. Only last April, Philippine and Chinese vessels faced off at the Panatag Shoal. Restraint prevented bloody clashes similar to those between Vietnamese and Chinese ships over the Paracels.
For the first time in 45 years, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) failed to issue its traditional annual statement. Reliant on Beijing largesse, Cambodia blocked even oblique communiqué reference to the issue.
Over half (55 percent) of adult Filipinos have “little trust” in China, Social Weather Stations reported in its May 2012 survey. “China’s lowest net trust score of -36 was first reached in June 1995, during the Mischief Reef confrontation.”
We cannot alter geography. Our grandchildren will live cheek-by-jowl with the Chinese next door. It is essential we understand better the country and its rulers. “Near neighbors are better than distant cousins,” a Filipino axiom says.
Insights may be culled from a recent forum on China at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a Washington-based think tank. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, now 89, anchored the forum.
In July 1971, Kissinger secretly met China’s Zhou En Lai. That led to a summit meeting between President Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao Ze Dong, ending 23 years of diplomatic isolation for Beijing—and paving the way for China’s rise.
Kissinger’s new book “On China” also provides additional observations relevant to Filipinos. Here are excerpts.
“Historians say China is now a rising country and we (in the United States ) are a status quo country,” Kissinger said. (Rather) China is a country returning to what it believes it has always been, namely, the center of Asian affairs.
The Chinese state has always been surrounded by a multiplicity of states. Management of “barbarians” has been a principle necessity of Chinese foreign policy…. China does not proselytize, claiming its institutions “are relevant outside China,” as the United States does. Yet, Beijing grades “all other states as various levels of tributaries, based on their approximation to Chinese cultural and political forms.”
China managed to stagger through 3,800 years of existence as “the most continuous state, without aid from the outside. It is inevitable that a rising China will impinge on the United States, and countries next door.
“We shouldn’t think of China as a dictatorial government. It’s a one-party state. It’s an authoritarian government. It’s more similar to Mexico before its final transformation. I think it will be more transparent. The legal system will be more predictable.
“But huge adjustments have to (be) made…. One must remember, Mao Ze Dong could give orders. The current leaders must operate by consensus, at least of the Standing Committee…”
President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao “presided over a country that no longer felt constrained by a sense of apprenticeship to Western technology and institutions.” And the 2008 economic meltdown “seriously undermined the mystique of Western economic prowess.”
These prompted a “new tide of opinion in China, among the vocal younger generation of students, Internet users and possibly in portions of political and military leadership. (They) feel a fundamental shift in the structure of the international system is taking place.”
Kissinger is a hardheaded apostle of realpolitik. After 9/11, “China remained an agnostic bystander to American projection of power across the Muslim world…. Beijing retained its characteristic willingness to adjust to changes in alignments of power and in the composition of foreign governments without passing a moral judgment.”
The brutal Tiananmen Square crackdown puzzled the Chinese. “They could not understand why the US took umbrage at an event that injured no American material interests. And China claimed no validity outside its own territory.”
Kissinger is “chillingly cavalier” about tens of millions of people who lost their lives during Mao’s years in power, Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, New York Times noted. Nixon complimented Mao on “having transformed an ancient civilization.” Mao replied: “I haven’t been able to change it. I’ve only been able to change a few places in the vicinity of Beijing.”
For some, “the tremendous suffering Mao inflicted on his people will dwarf his achievements.” But Kissinger delivers this cold-blooded rationalization: “If China remains united and emerges as a 21st-century superpower,” many Chinese may come to regard him as they do the early emperor Qin Shihuang, “whose excesses were later acknowledged by some as a necessary evil.”
In the end, Kissinger votes for national security “über alles”—a poke at the thick German accent that this diplomat never shed. China and the United States have a common interest creating a “Pacific community,” along the lines of the successful Atlantic community.
All Asian nations could then participate in a joint endeavor rather than a contest of rival Chinese and American blocs. Leaders on both Pacific coasts would “establish a tradition of consultation and mutual respect,” making a shared world order “an expression of parallel national aspirations.”