Is China a threat to the Philippines? | Inquirer Opinion

Is China a threat to the Philippines?

12:30 AM February 17, 2023

To most Filipinos, China is a threat. And not a theoretical one. Ask the Philippine Navy. They have been humiliated, bullied, and disregarded by Chinese ships in Philippine waters. Ask Filipino fishermen who have had their traditional fishing grounds declared off limits by Chinese naval ships. Or even civilian-looking boats who bully our Fishermen just the same.

The latest survey that I read on the sentiments of Filipinos towards China say that 70% remain distrustful, steadily negative. That is without prompting, too, a simple festering distrust that can be rabble-roused to a heated resentment. If that happens, the 70% will go up to 90%. It will also spill over to everyone suspected of being Chinese even if already Filipino.


Forgotten the flurry of our own acrimonious distractions are the May 1998 riots of Indonesia. If anyone goes to open sources of information like Wikipedia, it will be read that there were incidents of mass violence, anti-government demonstrations, and civil unrest mostly in the major cities of Indonesia.

It has been reported that as many as 2,000 Indonesian-Chinese were killed, scores were raped, and looting of their shops became rampant. Students joined the riots and a few were killed, thousands wounded. The riots only became more fierce and violent after that.


What caused the riots? Familiarly, the identified causes were corruption, economic problems, including food shortages and mass unemployment. But why were Indonesian-Chinese particularly targeted? I believe that in-depth studies had been done to find out but those studies were not so publicly shared.

I can say, though, that they were natural targets in an environment where great wealth was concentrated on them and select government officials, including senior military officers. Considering that the root causes were corruption and severe economic disparity, the Indonesian-Chinese and the ruling regime were the natural hate objects. History will point to those riots as the beginning of the end for then President Suharto.

In the light of the Chinese bullying in the South China Seas prompted by a fantastical 9-dash line of imagined historical Chinese ownership, I have witnessed the Indonesian government take immediate firm, confrontational stands whenever non-commercial Chinese ships would enter Indonesia waters. Indonesian naval forces have fired shots at these Chinese ships, or have rammed them.

I believe that the May 1998 riots are vivid in the minds of the Indonesian government, and it wants to make sure that they will not wake up the sleeping dogs of Indonesian resentment. While many Indonesian-Chinese have major thriving businesses in Indonesia, they are all overt Indonesian patriots. They, too, have deep memories of those tragic riots, and they match the instant, expressed patriotic stance of the Indonesian government.

For one reason or another, the same is not true in the Philippines. Except for the constant distrust of the vast majority of Filipinos against China. That goes deeper than just the hostilities between the United States and China in the Korean war. During the Spanish rule in the Philippines, there have been violent incidents that involved Chinese residents in the Philippines – and mostly prejudicial against them.

In a country where the economic disparity must rival that of Indonesia at the time of their riots, the Philippines has two natural hate targets – Philippine officialdom and the rich Filipino-Chinese. Whether they deserve being natural targets or not, it stands to reason that the vast majority of poor Filipinos will blame those with money before they blame themselves for their poverty. It is also a simple fact that the poverty of poor Filipinos is an inherited one, not caused by the poor themselves.

Now comes China, its 9-dash line fairy tale backed by superior firepower and resources, and its terrible fear that other countries, including and especially the Philippines, will exploit the treasure trove of oil and gas beneath our Western Philippine Sea. Coupled with a continuing positive attitude towards the United States and its Western allies like Canada, Australia, and Western Europe, the Philippines can be a sharp thorn in the Chinese throat.


Whoever it was that made the Chinese leadership move with arrogance and disdain against the Philippines committed a grievous error. Ever since China opened itself to the world after the Mao Zedong takeover and rule, the Philippines was an eager fan. It may be that the majority of Filipinos have some Chinese blood in them. And in almost every town in the country, there are Filipino-Chinese who have blended very well.

All of us with Chinese blood in us from ancestors in the last several hundred years are potential bridges to China. Yes, it may be that the last 100 years with strong American influence is a layer that separates Filipinos and Chinese, but that gap was already being slowly narrowed by business and employment. Every generation would have only made the bonds, not only the blood, stronger.

But power is always in a hurry, even in China. I had long admired Chinese history because there had been strong documentation of it, including its fantastic medical acumen and natural medical systems and products. I was a firm believer of the saying, “In the long run, China will win.” Unfortunately, China has forgotten the long run and just sees the future defined by their terms of power. Because of that, the long run will only be war and nothing else.

What, then, for us? My question about China being a threat is rhetorical. Most Filipinos already know the answer. The real question is, what can we do about it? There must be many ways – if we want to. Naturally, we have to exchange abject dependence to a growing capacity for self-sufficiency. That is self-preservation, that is human development, whatever the environment.

That same priority must be to awaken the patriotism in us. Our love of country must be translated to what we can contribute to its strength. Then, as distasteful as it may sound, we have to rid ourselves of traitors and cowards from within.

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