(Part 2: Proper Context)
Let us put all these perceptions and acquired hindsight about “soft invasion” in their proper context and set the record straight.
Proof of History
Firstly, China does not have a history of invading other countries.
China has not subjugated any country since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It never provoked a war, nor occupied an inch of others’ land.
For the past three decades, China’s defense expenditure as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has remained more or less two percent, far behind that of the United States (US) and other major countries.
It has a single overseas military base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa for defensive purposes, unlike the United States (US) that has 38 military bases across the globe.
To quote former US President Jimmy Carter who used to compare the US with China, “the US has only enjoyed 16 years of peace in its 242-year history, making the country the most warlike nation in the history of the world,” while China has been “at peace” and has sensibly invested in infrastructure to achieve “breakneck growth”.
Likewise, one has to be cognizant as well of the fact that, unlike American “exceptionalism” and “unilateralism”, where the US spreads its values and its typology of democracy across the globe, which has led to wars and invasions, China does not proselytize.
That Muslims have more than 1,200 year chronology in China says it all.
It does not claim that its contemporary institutions are relevant outside its borders. It never did and it never espoused the American notion of “universalism” and “neocolonialism” to spread its values and political ideology around the world.
To note, “neocolonialism” is the practice of using economics, globalization, cultural imperialism, and conditional aid to influence a country instead of the previous colonial methods of direct military control (imperialism) or indirect political control (hegemony), while “universalism” is the philosophical/theological concept that some ideas have universal application or applicability.
Sino-Philippine Bilateral Relations
Second, it is not entirely true that we have a problem with China, though it is a fact that we have competing maritime claims with China over the disputed waters of the South China Sea (SCS). However, this does not mean that China-Philippine bilateral relations are entirely conflict-driven. The Philippine dispute with China over the SCS does not define the totality of the bilateral relations of both countries.
The SCS dispute is just a small part of China-Philippines relations. Just like what Foreign Secretary Locsin said, “the SCS is just a little pebble on the avenue leading to our mutually beneficial economic progress, and we mustn’t stumble over the little pebble.” This means that the dispute over the SCS between the Philippines and China should not be treated and envisaged as a “zero-sum game” for it is not.
One has to remember that Philippines-China relations have improved under the Duterte administration from “icy and antagonistic diplomatic ties” under the previous administration to more “friendly and constructive relations”.
This “New Golden Age” of Sino-Philippine relations had thus far further strengthened mutual political trust, practical cooperation, and people-to-people exchanges, which have not only benefited both the Chinese and Filipinos but also contributed to the regional stability and prosperity.
Furthermore, it is but a fact that the Philippines had benefited economically from the warming relationship with China through trade and investment, and other economic activities like the ‘Build, Build, Build’ program of the Duterte administration, which the country has gained a lot.
To add, the total value of China’s newly signed contracts of projects in the Philippines still scored an increase of 26.5 percent in the first half of this year (2020) despite the coronavirus pandemic, which highlights the huge potential of the bilateral cooperation between China and the Philippines.
And concerning the paranoia of some political personalities that the Philippines will be in a “debt trap” with China, this is quite an overstatement. To note, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank of the Philippines) has already disclosed that loans from China only accounts for merely 0.65 percent of the country’s total debt. Even if all the planned financing were implemented, the figure would only be around 4.5 percent by 2022, still much lower than that of other major foreign lenders.
To set the record straight, there are only a total of 14,987 active retirees or those who continue to keep the retirement visa as their status of stay in the Philippines ages 34 to 49 years old.
Out of the total number of active retirees, more than 50 percent or 8,130 are Chinese nationals from mainland China, followed by the Koreans at 2,257, and Indians at 1,891.
Many of these Chinese retirees buy condominiums, and most if not many of them are investing and doing business (start-up businesses) in the country. These Chinese retirees also invite their friends to visit the Philippines as tourists, which to a greater extent helps boost the country’s tourism prospects and promotion.
Take note, China continues to be an important source of tourists for the Philippines. Data from the DOT showed that a total of 1.74 million Chinese tourists visited the Philippines in 2019, a 38.58 percent increase from 2018.
Contrast this to only 360,000 in President Aquino’s last full year.
These Chinese tourists spent a total of $2.33 billion as they visited the Philippines in 2019. To date, China remains the second-largest tourism market for the Philippines.
It is thus far an economic engine for the country that other countries are working hard to court and attract. Even Western countries are extending subsidies just to attract Chinese tourists.
To demonize China and accuse it of orchestrating a “soft invasion” in the Philippines is more or less a product of Pangilinan’s twisted figment of imagination devoid of concrete and solid evidence, or probably an early electioneering stunt to call attention to himself.
In the same manner that the latest utterances of paranoia from the likes of Pangilinan, Hontiveros, and Gordon, are not only groundless and misleading but most of all is bizarre and unwise.
These are upshots of their ulterior political motives, which in many ways if entertained, may severely affect, undermine, and damage the good relations between China and the Philippines, and between the Chinese and the Filipino people.
Just to emphasize, there’s never been any evidence for that matter that Chinese sponsored or funded projects in the Philippines have threatened the national security of the country. On the contrary, these development infrastructure projects are contributing much to the national development of the Philippines.
The Philippines as a country must consider its interests on a “multi-dimensional-long-term basis,” and should not be distracted by the noise of certain political personalities, who are just spoiling for a fight, and raising unnecessary tension and controversy, which nothing good will come out of it. In the era of Covid-19, cooperation between China and the Philippines is indispensable and vital to the country’s survival, stability, and peace.
Anna Malindog-Uy is president of TechPerformance Corporation and UDM Construction, Realty & Supply, Inc. She is a Lecturer on European Studies Program in Ateneo De Manila University, and District Manager and Local Lecturer in the Philippines for the World Mediation Organization (WMO) based in Berlin Germany.Thefounder and executive director of Peoples Partner for Development & Democracy (PPDD) and she was once the chairperson of the Asia Pacific Mediation Forum Summit Organizing Committee in 2013 and policy officer for European and international organizations of the Institut Europeen Des Hautes Estudes Internationales in Nice, France.