The Philippines and Taiwan have agreed to avoid armed confrontations in dealing with fishing disputes. Henceforth, we will share maritime law enforcement, notifying each other posthaste whenever actions are taken against vessels and crews of one or the other.
It’s welcome news. It douses the threat of a conflagration, which is escalating enmity between the two camps.
The friction, of course, stemmed from the killing of a 65-year-old Taiwanese fisherman by the Philippine Coast Guard some months ago. Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou called it a “cold-blooded murder” while the PCG called it self-defense, saying the Taiwanese boat tried to ram them after they blocked its path. The PCG claimed the vessel was in Philippine waters; Taiwan claimed it was in open sea.
Philippine authorities, along with a group of Taiwanese investigators, soon discovered that the Taiwanese fishing boat bore no signs of having tried to ram anything. It bore instead some 50 bullet holes from an assault weapon, suggesting overkill. The Department of Justice ruled to file charges against the erring PCG members.
For a while, the soured relations between the Philippines and Taiwan threatened dire consequences. Ma called for a freeze in new Filipino hires and the cessation of visits by Taiwanese tourists to these shores. Several thousand booked flights to the Philippines for the summer were cancelled. He also ordered the conduct of naval drills near Philippine waters.
Doubtless, Leila de Lima’s decision had something to do with appeasing the Taiwanese. But quite apart from that, it is also, which is what her department is supposed to ensure, a matter of justice. National pride may not supersede it. Other considerations may not supersede it. The killing of a fisherman, Taiwanese or Filipino, is lamentable. The taking of a life, intentionally or out of recklessness, is unacceptable. If we are at fault, we should own it. If we are wrong, we should rectify it.
The government has. The strength of the P-Noy administration has always lain in its insistence on pursuing the high moral ground. It continues to do so in this case, which is praiseworthy.
It also happens to have far-reaching consequences.
At the very least, it forestalls an escalation of economic retaliation from both sides. Which is more disastrous for us than for Taiwan. Taiwan is a premier destination for OFWs, being underpopulated as a result of a similar policy as China of limiting population growth and needing overseas workers to do a variety of jobs. We’ve had good relations with it in the past, notwithstanding our one-China policy, which demotes it to a province of China. Why lose all that because of a misunderstanding? We need Taiwan more than it needs us.
While at this, it should also draw attention to our relations with China itself. Nobody can avoid dealing economically with China today. Not the Asian countries, not the United States, not the world. Not even the Asian countries currently locked in a territorial dispute with it. It’s the second biggest economic power in the world, and looks poised to take the crown from even America over the next decade or so. Its economic impact on us is incalculable, being a source of cheap manufactures. God made the world, as the quite serious joke goes, everything else was made in China. It’s no less true for us than it is for other countries.
Other countries, and far richer ones, have learned the trick of not taking territorial disputes, however ferocious, personally, but have continued to deal economically with the other party. Other countries, and far stronger ones, have learned the art of separating grain from chaff, continuing to exchange goods along with barbs with perceived aggressors. If the pragmatism is necessary for a country’s benefit, it is certainly so for a country’s survival. We would do well to learn from those other countries.
At the very most, it helps prevent a nasty instinct, or reflex, or bias from rearing its ugly head again. China-bashing threatens to unleash it. That anti-Chinese sentiment is latent in our culture, along with an anti-Moro one. Lest we forget, we carried out pogroms or massacres of the Chinese during Spanish times. To this day, sitcoms are littered with people trying to be funny by speaking with a Chinese accent. Indeed, to this day, many Filipinos regard the Chinese distrustfully, believing in, and perpetuating, the stereotype that the Chinese—like the Moros—are magulang, they’ll pull a fast one on you at every turn.
Over the years, the sentiment has tapered off, thanks to the emergence of China as a world power, and thanks to the flood of Chinese goods coming this way. That stands to be resurrected unless the anti-Chinese stance is calibrated, refined, defined. Indeed, it stands to be reciprocated as we saw in the rowdy Hong Kong crowd’s reception of the Azkals.
I recall a lesson I learned in my activist days, when we were railing against American imperialism: Be careful to distinguish between American policy and the American people. By all means loathe the Vietnam War, but do not loathe the American people. By all means loathe Johnson and Nixon, but do not loathe the American people. By all means loathe aggression and invasion and occupation, but do not loathe the American people. The American policymakers you cannot have any solidarity with, the American people you can. The American imperialists you cannot be friends with, the American people you can.
Not always easy to do, but it can be done. It has to be done.
Ditto here. By all means loathe Chinese aggression, expansionism, imperialism. By all means rail against the Chinese leaders, the Chinese party members, the Chinese policymakers. But not China.
Not the Chinese people.