Why the pro-Beijing talking points are wrong
Last week, I reproduced the pro-Beijing line being pushed by the think tank IDSI. Here are some reasons why they are unconvincing.
First: In Dazhou, China, a Sultan of Sulu’s tomb dating to 1417 can be found, and it is put forward as proof of how China “values” centuries of Philippine-China history. But this is problematic. The relationship between the Ming imperial court and the Sulu sultanate was that of a ruling state and a vassal. Missions to send tribute were sent from Sulu to China in 1370, 1372, 1416, 1420, 1421, 1423 and 1424. There would be another tributary mission in 1733.
Tribute, as Ji-Young Lee defines it, is premised on “the culture-based theory of Chinese superiority,” which, “the more [it]… was accepted by actors in the periphery, the more likely they were to participate in the tribute system.” That included sending ambassadors or going in person to kowtow and present gifts to the Emperor, to signify accepting the superiority of the Emperor and, in return, being allowed to trade with China.
To say the least, aside from being of antiquarian interest, this is not the kind of relationship useful as a model for modern state-to-state relations.
Second: The assertion that the “Western legal framework and colonial mentality create borders that are detrimental to fraternal bonds” is also problematic. In the first place, the “Western legal framework” is one that both China and the Philippines in general formally adhere to. The Philippines, in particular, participated in the drafting of the law on the sea.
Arturo Tolentino, who spent 12 years participating in the drafting process, pointed out the benefits that accrued from being part of the drafting, and being a signatory, to, the law on the sea: a. Ownership of the Philippines over all minerals, oils and living resources in the waters and the seabed and subsoil of the archipelago; b. The 200-mile exclusive economic zone around the islands and the continental shelf even beyond 200 miles from the shore; c. Increased waters under Philippine jurisdiction, including the exclusive economic zone, by more than 93 million hectares; d. Recognition of the law of the “archipelago principle” which the Philippines has been advocating since 1956; e. Acceptance of the Philippines by the international community as a single political, economic and geographic unit with no international waters between the different islands.
Third: The rest of the points try to propose a departure from the current treaty relationships of the Philippines in general, and abandonment of two long-standing Philippine positions in particular. One is the support for a multilateral approach—that is, Asean nations acting together—to negotiating a code of conduct for disputed areas, which provides a fairer, because less power-unbalanced, means for negotiations, in contrast to China’s preferred bilateral or nation-to-nation approach. And two, support for the principle of freedom of navigation in international waters, where the Chinese position, like its old imperial world view, would require nations to accept that the nine-dash line represents a kind of territorial sea of China’s in which foreign vessels travel only on China’s say-so.
In making this pitch, IDSI ignores the experience of African nations with China, which are increasingly reacting against what is often called the “debt trap” that China creates to expand its influence through loans for infrastructure. Mahathir of Malaysia has recently spoken out on the unease this policy has created in his country; from Madagascar to India, China’s undertakings have provoked similar growing unease.
In the end, much of the language of IDSI’s talking points serves as a camouflage for a dangerous pro-Beijing boosterism. It goes beyond what more circumspect proponents of a more nuanced approach — less confrontational, but neither defeatist nor callous — call for concerning China.
It is dangerous because it tarnishes the more responsible efforts of people like our ambassador to China, Chito Sto. Romana, for example, who advocates economics, trade and commerce as the anchor for PH-China relations, while avoiding corrupt deals such as NBN-ZTE or the controversies that accompanied the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.