With friends like these... | Inquirer Opinion

With friends like these…

/ 04:35 AM April 13, 2022

Predictably, last week’s telephone “summit” between President Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping produced the same expressions of commitment to peace, security, and stability in the South China Sea.

After repeated affirmations of the same tired lines repeated ad nauseam by its leaders and diplomats over these last few years, the latest iteration does nothing to improve the situation in a geographic area where the greatest threat to peace, security, and stability is the very same country binding itself to these promises: China.


On one hand, China continues to promise the Philippines “restraint” to dissipate tensions in the international hot spot, while reaffirming the economic ties between two countries that have grown substantially since 2016.

On the other hand, China shows no sign of letting up in its aggressive moves in the South China Sea, claiming as its own wide swathes of the sea that are well within the Philippines exclusive economic zone as recognized by international law.


It also shows no sign of letting up on its maritime incursions, its continued harassment of Filipino fishermen eking out a livelihood in their traditional fishing grounds, and even the shadowing of Philippine civilian vessels conducting legitimate research within our own territory.

Such doublespeak are not the actions of a friend.

True friends don’t say one thing while doing exactly the opposite.

Make no mistake about it: this doublespeak is made entirely with the intent of paralyzing the Philippines into inaction, while China gets its way in the meantime. Not only are these Chinese expressions of friendship essentially meaningless, they are deceitful.

Sure, the Philippines has received funding and concessional loans (still expensive by concessional standards) for a few bridges and access to COVID-19 vaccines (which are empirically some of the least efficacious on the market).It has also seen the entry of a Chinese state-owned firm as an investor in the country’s booming telecommunications sector. But this investment, among others, required the Philippines to bend over backward by passing the Public Service Act, a law seen as a de facto amendment of the 1987 Constitution. This investment required so much spadework and groundwork by Filipinos that one begins to wonder if all the effort will be truly beneficial for the majority of Filipinos rather than the Chinese and a few of their local proxies.

The Philippines has received all these “gifts” obviously in return for the country’s docility in asserting its sovereignty while China calls itself a “friend” but continuously and regularly acts like a tough neighborhood bully.

It is a steep price to pay.


The country’s sovereignty is ill-served by the current dispensation’s policy of being friends with China while offering only token resistance against the latter’s illegal moves in the West Philippine Sea.

And the President’s favorite reasoning for this defeatist behavior — “We can’t win a war against China” — plays right into China’s hands, signaling to its leaders that our country will bend over all the way short of reaching the breaking point, just to prevent the seemingly implied threat of war.

China’s actions are incompatible with true friendship. In fact, its actions are closer to those of gangsters engaged in protection rackets against their helpless victims who could do little more than comply under the implied threat of physical violence.

The strategic ambiguity ostensibly employed by President Duterte may have been useful for the Philippines during a time when the US, the country’s strongest military ally, was led by an inward-looking isolationist president who seemed intent on unraveling the long-established global order. But that time has come and gone and the current US leadership has clearly sent the pendulum swinging back.

Clearly, the US has sensed the danger of China moving to occupy the regional power vacuum it has created in recent years and has moved to step back into that space by reaffirming military ties around the region.

The recently concluded Baliktan exercises with the Armed Forces of the Philippines—the largest ever in the long history of the alliance—is proof of this, and China has clearly taken notice. It is a step in the right direction for the Philippines.

The next administration owes the Filipino greater clarity and unity of word and deed. If a closer alliance with the US is the preferred route, say so and do so. If an “independent foreign policy” is the preference of our next president, then make it truly independent instead of being independent only in name while countenancing China’s efforts to undermine the Philippines’ sovereignty.

Indeed, with “friends” like China, who needs enemies?

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TAGS: Editorial, Maritime Dispute, PH-China relatiions, Rodrigo Duterte, xi jinping
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