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A Beijing world order

The Trump trade war is apparently inflicting damage on China. But it is hurting other countries as well, not least the United States itself, thus weakening the Washington world order. It bolsters the belief that the birthing of a Beijing world order is inevitable. Whether such development is desirable is another matter.

In his latest Tomgram essay, Alfred McCoy presents a compelling picture of what that world order might portend.

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Filipinos may still remember McCoy as the historian who unearthed the archival documents demolishing the Marcos claims to medals of valor allegedly awarded to him by the American government for heroic exploits against Japanese occupation forces. These medals were as fake as the claims for compensation submitted by Marcos for his Maharlika guerrilla unit, which makes mystifying why President Duterte would revive the Marcos idea of renaming the country after his scam to defraud the US government and genuine Filipino guerrillas.

McCoy’s outline of the potential Beijing framework for a new global system will be credible to Filipinos who are witnessing its contours emerging in their backyard. The contrast between the Washington world order could not be sharper, particularly in how they define the limits of state sovereignty and the nature of human rights.

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The Iberian world order (1494-1805), established by the Treaty of Tordesillas (1494), gave Catholic Spain and Portugal papal authority to subjugate “barbarous” (i.e., non-Catholic) peoples and to exercise dominion over open seas.  The Dutch and the British happily accepted the right to establish colonial rule over barbarian infidels, but enshrined the principle of freedom of the seas, which the succeeding British world order (1815-1914) sustained. At the Berlin Conference on Africa (1885), Britain modified the basis of colonial rule from religion to race, denying “native tribes” both sovereignty and human rights.

The Washington world order (1944-?), arising from the ashes of the world wars, retained the freedom of the seas doctrine but rejected the religious and racial divisions previous world orders had imposed. Instead, it promoted the universal declaration of human rights, proclaiming the “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” under the protection of the rule of law. Affirming the right of self-determination for all nations, the Washington global system also established the infrastructure for international collaboration: the United Nations, the World Bank, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the World Trade Organization.

The 2017 Beijing Belt and Road Forum, attended by 130 nations, marked for McCoy the “formal start of the Chinese era.” Already, China has paved the path it wants the world to pursue. In rejecting the UN ruling that denied its unilateral claims over the South China Sea, China was returning to the 15th-century Iberian principle of the “closed sea,” subject to the control of one country. It was also demonstrating its dismissal of the framework of international law supporting the Washington world order.

A Beijing system is unlikely to defend the exercise of individual political rights, freedom of expression and freedom of religion—values cherished by Filipinos. A million Uighurs in Xinjiang are reportedly captives in “reeducation camps” for living their Muslim faith. China has taken steps to cleanse historical records of content that reflected badly on the Communist Party and the regime. It controls the flow of information within its borders, blocking online sources deemed dangerous by the state.

Reporters without Borders has warned that China is exporting its methods of censorship and control of information to other countries, promoting a Chinese “new world media order” that threatens press freedom globally.

Without mutual commitment to international covenants based on the rule of law, state transactions will require scrupulous attention to economic costs and benefits, crafty diplomacy anchored on balance of power calculations, and a sharp focus always on national interest. With a political system driven by factional, partisan interests and a leadership so shamelessly complacent and submissive in its dealings

with China, a Beijing world order promises formidable challenges for the Philippines.

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Demanding fortitude in defending our rights in the West Philippine Sea, and transparency and prudence in negotiating Chinese deals, will help guard against the premature imposition upon us of a new world order.

Edilberto C. de Jesus is professor emeritus at the Asian Institute of Management.

Business Matters is a project of the Makati Business Club ([email protected]).

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