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On China, PH should learn from Africa

/ 05:00 AM June 08, 2019

The Chinese, a people whose trading and seafaring genius configured civilizations in Asia, were the first predominant wave of immigrants to our shores—as early as five centuries before Ferdinand Magellan, according to the historian Edgar Wickberg.

While a great number of Chinese prospered and returned to the mainland, a contingent from each generation remained in the islands. Being diligent entrepreneurs and good providers, they encountered little resistance in attracting and marrying naturales or taking them as concubines. Infusing the most prevalent bloodline in our country’s ethnology, they sired Filipino-Chinese cohorts who, to this day, are making remarkable contributions to our society.

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Today’s Chinese nationals from Xi Jinping’s domain, however, pose troubling questions as Beijing exerts the broadest possible influence on the Philippines to advance its interests—a commonplace effort in bilateral relations.

The problem is that China, largely through its state-controlled companies, has weaponized   routine activities to covertly manipulate our political system and curate the wider economic landscape. This manipulation usually comes in the form of corrupt practices and predatory techniques that, for instance, induce endless drug smuggling and payoffs.

One example involved ZTE Corp., one of China’s leading telecom firms. On April 21, 2007, the Philippine government signed a $329-million national broadband network contract with ZTE during then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s 12-hour China visit to attend the Boao Forum for Asia. The deal engineered by ZTE was signed at the VIP lounge of the Hainan international airport by Secretary Leandro Mendoza and ZTE vice president Yu Yong, just as Arroyo’s delegation was embarking for Manila. Filipinos could only speculate about the inducements offered by ZTE to clinch the contract in record time, without public bidding.

In other developing Asian and African countries, Chinese companies have resorted to a wide array of bribery and cynical exploitation of bureaucratic weaknesses to gain lucrative contracts. Over the last 12 years, ZTE and its larger rival, Huawei, have been investigated or found guilty of corruption in as many as 21 countries, according to a former intelligence committee  staffer of the US House of Representatives. These include African countries such as Algeria and Ghana, as well as the Philippines, Malaysia and Norway.

Chinese investments also abet illegal migrant flow. Howard W. French, in his book “China’s Second Continent,” details the alarming story of China’s economic colonization of Africa. Within a period of two decades, starting in the early 1990s, Chinese interests established an irreversible presence in African nations, allowing  millions of Chinese nationals to run businesses and to work for thousands of Chinese companies operating on that continent.

Equally disturbing is China’s efforts to gain political influence in target countries. Clive Hamilton, in his book “Silent Invasion: China’s Influence in Australia,” reveals the flows of Chinese money to Australian politicians and institutions, as well as the connections of prominent Chinese-Australians to Beijing’s intelligence agencies. In December 2017, then Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull informed the Australian parliament, without naming China, that the scale of the threat to Australian sovereignty from foreign influence campaigns was “unprecedented.”

China seems to excel at leveraging its influence by circumventing our laws, exploiting corruptible Philippine officials and stealing jobs from Filipino workers. In November 2016, close to 1,300 undocumented Chinese workers were arrested at gambling tycoon Jack Lam’s casino in Clark, Pampanga. Subsequent Senate investigations found that from 2015 to 2018, the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole) had issued 169,893 alien working permits, 85,496 of which went to Chinese workers. Separately, the Bureau of Immigration (BI), one of our most venal agencies, had issued at least 200,000 special work permits, mostly to Chinese nationals.

Last February, Sen. Francis Pangilinan sought the dismissal of Dole and BI officials who had allowed 400,000 illegal Chinese workers into the country. Still, as the Philippines incurs more soft loans from Beijing and more Sino companies undertake massive projects under President Duterte’s grand infrastructure program, the number of illegal Chinese workers is likely to double or even triple before the end of Mr. Duterte’s term.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros has denounced this growing invasion of undocumented and illegal Chinese workers as an “assault on the country’s sovereignty.”  What we can do is learn from Africa’s bitter experience:  History teaches that where economic power goes, political power usually follows.

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Rex D. Lores ([email protected]) is a member of the Philippine Futuristics Society.

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