The root of insecurity | Inquirer Opinion
The Long View

The root of insecurity

As that old saying goes, a statesman thinks of the next generation, while a politician thinks only of the next election. Just the other day, the Republican Speaker of the House put his position on the line by ensuring the approval of billions of dollars in direly needed military aid to Ukraine—after having opposed such aid for some time. His change of opinion, said the Speaker, was due to the intelligence briefings that were given to him once he became head of the lower house.

During World War II, living in exile during a period when war made elections impossible, a Filipino leader told an American ex-official that the Philippines would do better to establish an alliance with Japan, than with China—even though Japan was, at the time, forcibly occupying the Philippines and China, like the Philippines, was part of the United Nations fighting the Axis powers. The reason, said the Filipino leader, was born of history: “Thinks it is a mistake to assume the Japanese are naturally an Empire and the Chinese not; on the contrary, the Chinese have always been imperialists when they were strong enough, and the Japanese only recently so,” adding some months later, “Japan should not be so crushed that China may arise in her place as the would-be dictator of the Orient.”

From Richard Nixon—who opened relations with China to counter the then-Soviet Union, and helped maneuver China’s taking Taiwan’s seat in the United Nations and its permanent seat in the Security Council, to Bill Clinton who presided over China’s accession to the World Trade Organization—America believed that binding China to the security, diplomatic, and economic institutions America put in place after World War II, would both limit and subordinate China. Instead, as China’s economic growth has allowed it to increasingly flex military and diplomatic muscle, what China is systematically establishing are parallel institutions (not just its Belt and Road Initiative, or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, but Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) that could, one day, supplant the “rules-based order” America was able to impose after World War II.

Much as the Philippines’ own policy of performative martyrdom has successfully countered China’s muscular annexation, China believes it has two things America lacks: concentration and time. The China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations has codified this thinking in a chapter, “General Laws of the Rise of Great Powers,” in a recent publication, National Security and the Rise and Fall of Great Powers. Its American translators attribute it to a scholar named Zhang Yunchen and summarize his ideas as follows:


International relations are defined by competitions between nations, which should be won by the nation that marshals superior resources, makes use of territorial advantages, and throws vast populations into conflicts.

But scientific, technological, commercial, and political advancement can level the playing field.So, while a nation might occupy modest territory or have a comparatively small population, a technological advancement brought to bear against a competitor could be decisive.

Xi Jinping and his mantra of “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” after decades of bland cooperation, means rivalry between the United States and China is now center stage in practically every corner of the globe and that the two are first and second in military spending, respectively, though America continues to outspend China roughly threefold.

But a strangely parallel series of scandals points to the problems faced by both countries, as they spend colossal amounts on defense, in order to put teeth to their diplomacy: all that money means many opportunities for corruption.


Each nation has its own way of rectifying matters: the US, eager to get hold of a Malaysian known to his US Navy friends as “Fat Leonard,” negotiated with its enemy, Venezuela, to get hold of him; China has mounted purges of its military, specifically a defense minister and top brass in its elite rocket forces, over allegations of corruption. In both cases, the corruption (exposed by journalists in the American case, and pieced together by analysts from official statements in China’s case) could potentially weaken the military readiness and capability of each country: an unwelcome variable in an increasingly high-stakes confrontation.

At one of the many high-tension moments of the Cuban missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy remarked, “There is always some son-of-a-bitch who doesn’t get the word.” He was referring to the possibility a lost American pilot might trigger a Russian attack, just when both sides were trying to prevent a further escalation of tensions.


Visit and click on the “in Focus” section to read “Philippine wartime views on the future of Indonesia, China and Japan”; and visit to read “CCP Elite on Tech + Great-Power Competition.”

Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @mlq3

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