THE PHILIPPINES finds itself in the front line in the covert war of the United States against China. But make no mistake: We would not go after the Spratly Islands this hard by ourselves. There is no real benefit for us in doing so; our children, their children, and those who will come after them will not be able to use the supposed oil and gas deposits in the area. All we can do is to try and prevent the other side from using those resources.
We have chosen our side and we have our marching orders from Washington. This is why we are getting a windfall in military aid the likes of which we have never received before, and why there is renewed interest in the reopening of the former US bases. Given how closely our economy is tied with that of the United States, with BPOs that have American companies for clients propping up our country, this may not be the wrong choice to make.
But no matter the reason for picking this fight, we still have to understand the thinking of the Chinese leadership so that we can react accordingly.
The communist government of China does not see itself as separate from how it was
before. It sees itself as the continuation of the Ming, the Han, the Qin, and all the other dynasties. It is not a government that has existed for 100 years but, rather, a civilization that has existed for 3,000 years.
There is a different mindset that gets inculcated into one when one is brought up in a system like this. Under China’s system, plans don’t range for just the next 10 years but extend to generations to come. Take China’s actions concerning the Spratlys, for example. It builds lighthouses and settles on what areas it can. It makes sure that those communities
follow the laws that it set forth so that in the next years they will have a legal case where they can point out that they have had ownership of the land all along and have settled on it and built improvements upon it to aid general maritime navigation, while the other claimants have done nothing. Many cases involving disputes among parties that have some sort of historical claim to the land have been settled along this line by international tribunals.
And look at China’s currency. It has artificially devalued the yuan for the longest time, even if it would hurt its people in the short term, so that it can compete with and overtake the American economy. The end result is that the United States now owes China $1 trillion, or more.
Compare this with the mindset of the Philippines. Our country has difficulty imagining projects that will transcend election cycles. Contractors are always worried that the next administration will cancel their project, and in any case politicians want the project completed before the next election so that they can list it as one of their accomplishments.
It’s a mindset in which multiple municipalities with common borders cannot pool their resources to build big projects such as hospitals, and instead get stuck building yet another footbridge or waiting shed with their available resources.
In short, our culture provides a very shortsighted view of the world, with emphasis on immediate gains over long-term viability.
If the Philippines is to compete with China, we at least have to learn to think as far as it does. We have been given two ships and more than 100 fighting vehicles by the United States. On the surface this is a very generous gesture, but what does it really get us? A bunch of machines that are outdated, have zero book value for the US armed forces, and are costing them every month to maintain and warehouse. If you consider these facts, the Philippines is actually doing the United States a favor by taking the machines. Now it is no longer America that has to maintain them.
But how effective are these machines? If we were to get 100 times the aid, would we be able to present an effective deterrent against China? Not really.
Our country is taking an incredibly risky position in world geopolitics, and as usual we are getting compensated for it through short-term measures that look good in the headlines but actually don’t accomplish much. This conflict will be as much about the economy and infrastructure as it is about military might. If we are to take a longer view of things, we should be receiving debt relief, or at least repayment of some of our loans by the United States, or infrastructure grants.
I would like to stress the word “grants,” not “loans,” for use in fixing our transportation system and other things that will result in long-term improvements.
China got to where it is today by thinking very far ahead and having the discipline to adhere to its plans. If we insist on being in the front line in the conflict between the United States and China, we at least have to be able to do the same thing.
Edgar Alfredo Tiu Diaz Jr. works in the BPO/call center industry.