The arrival of People’s Republic of China President Xi Jinping to the Philippines yesterday, November 20, marks a significant and disturbing watershed in the fate of Philippine sovereignty, independence and international relations. Since his ascent to the Philippine Presidency, Rodrigo Duterte has exhibited a fanatical obsession with establishing positive links with Beijing through Xi. We in the Sentro ng mga Nagkakaisa at Progresibong Manggagawa(SENTRO), despite believing in internationalism and good will among nations, meet this development with growing scepticism. The Duterte regime’s incessant kowtowing to Beijing and the deceptions it continuously sells should be met with measured outrage—for it is selling out our sovereignty, patrimony and credibility in the global stage as we watch.
This policy of appeasement to China, not without support from policy-makers, business interests and even scholars, was initially sold to the Filipino people as mere corrective reorientation away from our centuries-long special-yet-unbalanced relationship with the United States of America. With the dominance of Donald Trump and an increasingly-racist, exclusionary and oppressive Republican Party at the head of the so-called “free world”, a move away from Washington is, in many ways, understandable if not even imperative. However, what should have been an opportunity to finally and truly assert an independent Philippine foreign policy was heavily compromised by Duterte’s obsessive swing to China.
We at SENTRO have had no shortage of criticisms of how previous presidencies have pursued foreign affairs. We also have no illusions about how our participation in transnational bodies (such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization—even the Association of Southeast Nations, for that matter) have more often than not led to further economic inequality and social strife. Yet all the same, we recognize the global space of foreign affairs as having openings and opportunities for people-led empowerment and struggle. SENTRO, with its engagement with transnational activist organizations, have found that there are ways in navigating this multilateral world of diplomacy and foreign affairs—so long as it remains multilateral, decentralized and representative.
This is not the kind of global order Beijing under Xi Jinping wishes to achieve. Xi’s steering of the Chinese Communist Party over the past decades saw it deploying symbolic capital and physical force to not only subjugate territories it can conquer. It has also held economies of different countries hostage and institutionally-dependent on Beijing’s imperial munificence. Many of us are already seeing this happening in African nation-states, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, even Brazil and Panama.
The Duterte regime’s supine surrender to China has already seen unsettling and disgusting developments in its measly two years. Foremost of the casualties of our swing to China would be our pursuit of out internationally-recognized sovereign right to the Spratlys and Scarborough Shoal. For many of the flaws of the administration of Benigno Aquino III, his administration’s officials and advocates did more than any other to assert our historical and territorial rights as mandated by international law.
More importantly, however, would be the nature of the deals and projects the Duterte regime has opened with Beijing. Listed down among these would be oil and gas development, infrastructure cooperation programs, industrial parks cooperations, infrastructure building in Davao City and bridge-building in Panay, Guimaras and Negros. Perhaps most controversially, it has all but guaranteed the pouring of money and utilities for the Laiban and Kaliwa Dam projects, despite decades-long resistance of the Remontado-Dumagat to protect their ancestral domains.
It can already be said with clarity that our economy is now very vulnerable to the actions and whims of Beijing—what with the enactment of many non-transparent and un-consulted deals that put to shame even Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s own failed attempt at the ZTE-NBN deal. Investigative reportage (by trusted news outfits such as Rappler and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism) suggests that it has been persistently part of China’s modus operandito specifically seek out vulnerable countries with corrupt and venal administrations, in order to take control of their economies.
That Beijing chose to establish such lopsided links with the Arroyo and Duterte administrations is not only proof of their less-than-benevolent intentions. It is also a damning testimony to the bankruptcy of these administrations’ governance track record. It is not entirely good company for any president to be lumped with notoriously-corrupt China stooges like Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak and Cambodia’s long-reigning premier Hun Sen. But perhaps this development was inevitable, what with major Duterte cronies (like national epal Christopher “Bong” Go and emerging telco mogul Dennis Uy) heavily linked to Chinese business interests, and with Duterte himself getting elected in part by money from them as well.
All of these complex policy and diplomacy concerns may be overwhelming to our kababayans, even to us in the working peoples’ movements. Yet the injustices of what the Xi-Duterte affair represents to the common Filipino was illustrated very well with what happened yesterday Tuesday, November 20 at the Skyway leading to NAIA. Hundreds of people were stranded and forced to walk away from their cars and transport just to reach their flights—all because the roads were closed for the exclusive use of Xi Jinping’s entourage. This same unjust road management policy was levied against us when the Aquino administration hosted APEC 2015—as the nation supposedly negotiated trade deals with many other countries, even at the expense of our actual economic and social miseries.
By entering the devil’s deal with Beijing, we are very unlikely to be afforded any form of transparency. For Beijing’s government does not only seek to enslave men’s bodies and economies. It also seeks to warp and subvert the world’s growing sense of freedom from over-centralized state control.
We in SENTRO believe that we Filipinos, despite our pitfalls, would value our freedoms and liberties above and beyond false development deals. We have done this against the onslaught of neoliberalism and neo-colonial control under Marcos and the post-EDSA Presidencies. We can stand up again.
Reject the Xi-Duterte alliance! Down with Beijing’s imperialism! Push for a genuine independent foreign policy!