A review of the major demographic, geopolitical, economic and military developments in the Asia-Pacific over the past year has led me to one initial conclusion: China, as the world’s most powerful economy (it expects to be so in this 21st century and replace the US), is the threat to Asean 10’s integration, unity, and, political stability and security.
So the Philippine initiative, starting with last week’s statements of President Rodrigo Duterte in his state visits to Cambodia and Singapore, to work for a unified Asean is a step in the right direction. This should be pursued to the hilt towards the end of the Asean 50th Summit anniversary, and thereafter, scheduled here next year.
Hope I am wrong. And I will appreciate anybody who can raze my arguments! Consider these:
1. Throughout this century, China will still have a population in excess of one billion, second only to India which is expected to have more people than China by 2045. China considers this a geopolitical/economic leverage because its people is expected to have increased purchasing power which the manufacturing and export sectors of the US, Europe and all other industrialized/exporting countries will want to hold.
2. China is expected to be less dependent on fossil fuel imports as it intensifies its production of energy from renewable sources such as solar, wind and hydro.
3. As its economic status improves globally, it is expected to increase its military expenditures beyond the one trillion (U.S.) dollar level to expand its armaments and its “defensive (or offensive) capabilities” and to intimidate (read: bully) less developed or militarily weak Asean members.
4. While diplomatically saying it does not want to be at war with any country, the Beijing regime acts just the opposite way in the South China Sea islands, reefs and corals where it has built military installations since more than 10 years ago. It further claims these military buildups are all “defensive” facilities and are built on its own “sovereign territory.”
5. The latest is the exposure by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) of the anti-missiles and anti-aircraft gunnery facilities in three Philippine economic zone reefs in the West Philippine Sea (within the 200 nautical mile United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) zone. China already has in operation air bases on the reclaimed islands on these reefs.
6. Yesterday, the internet came up with a report—now this really needs to be monitored closely—quoting The Guardian, that the Chinese navy has “seized an underground US drone in international waters—“in plain sight” of the American sailors—who were about to retrieve it.” That’s in the South China Sea off one of the reefs within the West Philippine Sea, where China has built military facilities!
7. China refuses to recognize the UN International Court of Arbitration in The Hague (in favor of the Philippines) which ruled that China has no basis for its territorial claim on the South China Sea. This is in direct violation of the U.N. rules which it accepted when the Mao Tse-tung’s People’s Republic of China (PROC) replaced the Nationalist China’s Taiwan (Republic of China, headed by the group of the late Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek who lost to Mao and fled to Taiwan in 1949) in the UN.
8. China totally ignores the UNCLOS, which gives the right of exploitation and development of marine resources (BUT NOT SOVEREIGN OWNERSHIP) up to 200 miles against China in the South China Sea. China and Vietnam had armed clashes in these areas since 1979.
9. This is because China knows the United Nations is powerless when it comes to enforcement of international agreements like the UNCLOS. Beijing will just keep ignoring international condemnation for its refusal to honor its international commitments whenever it wants to. Expectedly, its justification: as a sovereign “civilization” it has the rights to reject any global rule whenever the rule is “against its national interest.”
10. China had led the establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) to compete against the US(and Japanese)-led financial institutions, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Asian Development Bank for less developed Asia-Pacific economies– to wean them away from the Western-led funding establishments and indirectly influence these weaker countries.
11. The withdrawal or absence of any Asean official statements referring to the Chinese claim on the South China Sea over the last three years are concrete proofs of Beijing’s efforts to divide Asean. Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines pushed for “collective Asean concerns” over the Chinese South China Sea claims but hosts Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma) refused to approve the statements so as not to displease China. Collective Asean decisions and actions must be on a consensus basis, thus any one opposition or objection is enough to scratch off whatever proposal is/was on the conference table.
12. China, on the other hand, has been buying paid advertisements in major nationally-circulated newspapers in Manila and social media (internet) promoting the Chinese “one-silk road route” to economic prosperity in an effort to indirectly influence the thinking of young readers in all Asean member countries.
13. China has also directly offered to “assist”, over the next five years, in the infrastructure “investments”—railroads—to link Beijing with Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore. Separate “aids” for railroads were also offered to Indonesia and the Philippines, Brunei has been offered “assured trade.” This is the Beijing’s “commitment” to help increase the economic productivity of the Asean and indirectly influence them geopolitically.
14. Don’t forget Beijing’s offers to help “improve” the telecommunications facilities of all 10 Asean members, and now it is aggressively seeking students and faculty exchanges with all of the major Asean colleges and universities.
15. This is the lesson the Chinese learned from the European and American colonizers of the last 500 years. And they improved on it because it has managed to adopt the Western concept/practice of capitalism and free market society while maintaining a vertical Communist-dictatorship wherein opposition is not allowed and “political power comes from the barrel of the gun.” (Go back to the Deng Xiao-peng period of Chinese contemporary history).
16. Another vital factor to this situation is the overseas Chinese populations in all the Aseanmember countries estimated between 30 to 40 million—and they have a solid grip on the exclusive economic growth of the region. These Chinese billionaires in the Asean also have their private investments in China which can be wittingly used as a pressure point for Beijing’s purposes.
17. Obviously, China is now on a revenge mode for its centuries of “humiliation” under the influence and manipulation by the European, Japanese and American colonizers which includes the Opium War the British used to takeover Hong Kong for 100 years.
So all these begs another question: How can anyone expect China to be a helping rich member of the Asean and Asia-Pacific neighborhood when it packs the biggest couple of guns and can or will most likely bully into submission anyone who may oppose it? While technologies in telecommunications has shrunk physical distances, wouldn’t geographically farther hegemonies be better friends than revenge-minded neighbors?
Don’t anyone forget that when it comes to war, the Americans and its allies will not just take it sitting down; and in this century, the economic factor has a more important role than it had in the last two world wars.
(Please email your comments and reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The columnist has been news correspondent and covered the region for more than 50 years. He is president of the Philippine Futuristics Center and teaches journalism and geopolitics at the Lyceum of the Philippines University).