Between China and AmericaBy Jose Ma. Montelibano
Philippine Daily Inquirer
We are in between worlds, established superpower America of the West and emerging superpower China of the East. It is a contrast territorially and ideologically. The contrast of sunrise and sunset had carried with it much conflict historically. When the West discovered the East, expansionism by conquest and/or trade was the order of the day. For several centuries, relationships were defined by violence and greed.
The West mastered expansion by conquest. Although it had its Renaissance and awed the world with its creativity and artistry, the West was primarily about the use of power to establish control. From within its boundaries, member states waged so many wars against each other that, including those between Christians and Muslims, there were more wars than years.
The East had its own version of violent relationships and encounters, among tribes and among member countries. That the great massive land of China had fallen to foreign control described a China weakened by intramurals that Western countries were quick to exploit. By historical time, it did not take that long before the Chinese rallied towards their own solidarity to expel their foreign masters. The history of England was much more pitiful—1,500 years of subjugation by different countries before their warring tribes learned to fight together.
Filipinos and Chinese are blood brothers as they are trading partners. This history of blood brotherhood and trading partnerships go a long way and is a feature of our pre-Hispanic times. It could very well be that China and the Philippines were once physically connected by land bridges. But the seas have not deterred Chinese and Filipino engagement. Both peoples have used the seas like highways and trading routes that it is not surprisingly for the Philippines and China to claim ownership of common waters and islands.
However, we are blood brothers with China not because we have visited each other that long that that often, but because Chinese have come here without us going to China. Blood brotherhood is territorial and limited to Filipinos and Chinese within the Philippines. It seems that Filipinos were seafarers but mostly intra-islands, our islands. There were more Chinese adventurers and traders who sailed farther from their native shores and reached our islands. It was more of a one-way street, from there to here.
With these little pieces of history, we may catch clues why China claims islands that are so far from their mainland and so much nearer to ours. It may be because they have taken routes from China to the Philippines that passed these same islands routinely. Since we did not travel to China in the same frequency as Chinese traveled to the Philippines, they could have regarded some contested islands today as theirs because of their historical use. It was not till very modern times when the world began to use the exclusive 200-mile from shore as standard to measure territorial boundaries.
Bullying, well, bullying does not need too much explanation. For one, there is size. Apparently, size is a major factor where bullying occurs. A much bigger size really makes one feel a bit superior, if not actually much more superior, over another who is smaller or much smaller. There are a few examples and many more of lesser visibility to the world but not to their neighbors. Take America, take Russia, take Iran. Size when matched with bigger populations tends to having an attitude of superiority.
When the natural conditions of bigger size and bigger population are joined by pressure, internal or external, bullying is almost a foregone conclusion – except that the bully country does not really believe that it is bullying. It acts from a sense of entitlement – meaning. “I’m bigger than you, I’m more than you, so I deserve more than you.” Unfortunate for the victim, and very dangerous, too.
As China must be feeling more entitled, from size, population and from history, the United States shares this feeling as well. Its history in the region is much shorter than what China shares with all Asian nations but it is very current, very fresh in the memory. After all, when China was still being beset by its own internal problems and exploited by everyone else because of these, America was king in Asia, ably supported by mother England. The United States gained entitlement when it won the last World War at a steep cost. Besides, the big bad atomic bomb set it apart as a nation that built it first – and used it first (and last so far) against an enemy.
Having become used to being boss, and gaining much from it in terms of its own economic growth, the United States is having difficulty accepting China’s great emergence as the next superpower. The 7th Fleet is an awesome force and Asia is its beat. It cannot invade China but it can rain nuclear missiles from the seas. And while figures on firepower shown parity between China and the United States, China has had little practice with warfare at this level compared to America. From WWII up to today, the United States has used modern warfare technology in a way that no other country has.
One thing nice about bullying is when two bullies face off. They are not used to having the kind of competition that can badly hurt them, or even destroy them. When this situation arises, bullies can be very sober, and somber. They growl but do not like to bite. They will circle each other and wait, looking for substantial advantage, waiting for allies to gain courage and enter the conflict, and most probably, look for a way out that mutually satisfies.
The Philippines may believe that it is a principal player in its own territorial dispute with China. But it is not in the league of giants, not competitive to bullies, and only a pawn in geopolitics. There is only one trait that can elevate it to the level of those much bigger, the only factor that equalizes difference in size – and that is its willingness, the willingness of its citizens, to do or die whatever the cost.
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