Did Filipinos perform the kowtow in Beijing?



First read
Watching and reading snippets of reports on President Duterte‘s official visit to China, it struck me that what was happening before our eyes and before the world – was the execution of the kowtow, an important part of Chinese custom and tradition.

Here you had a country, which under President Benigno BS Aquino III, made it a point of challenging China’s aggressive expansion in the South China Sea and even took her to court; and which now under President Rodrigo Duterte is doing its utmost to please China, to the extent of forgetting to mention the hard-won award of the permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague last July, which ruled as illegal China’s map and claims in the SCS and its occupation of Philippine territory under our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as provided by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea ( UNCLOS).

As witnesses and props, Mr. Duterte brought along some 150 top Filipino businessmen to bear witness and join in the execution of the kowtow.

Dealing with China, a defining issue

Oxford Dictionary defines kowtow as:

Verb, to act in an excessively subservient manner;

2 . historical, to Kneel and touch the ground with the forehead in worship or submission as part of Chinese custom.

Noun, An act of kowtowing as part of Chinese custom.

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong before the handover to China of the crown colony on June 30, 1997, relates in his book, East and West (Macmillan, 1998), how he practiced the ritual and how it impacts on contemporary times.

He wrote: “It takes a long time to kowtow. I have just tried it on the carpet of my study. I may have been a bit fast, but it still took one minute and 15 seconds. I guess it is the sort of gymnastic activity that will take longer as the years take their toll.”

Patten says the kowtow custom goes to the heart of all the most common arguments on how nations should deal with China — and how we deal with China will become one of the defining issues of the next decade. “China is more than one-fifth of humanity, and what happens there – which we can affect only at the margins – will matter to us all.”

The kowtow in history

Wikipedia punctiliously relates in great detail the custom and tradition of the kowtow, from imperial times to its usage in the modern world. Kowtow is borrowed from kautau in Cantonese (koutou in Mandarin Chinese); it denotes the act of deep respect shown by kneeling and bowing so low as to have one’s head touching the ground.

In East Asian culture, the kowtow is the highest sign of reverence. It was widely used to show reverence for one’s elders, superiors, and especially the Emperor, as well as for religious and cultural objects of worship. In modern times, usage of the kowtow has become reduced.

In Imperial Chinese protocol, the kowtow was performed before the Emperor of China. In the most solemn of ceremonies, for example at the coronation of a new Emperor, the Emperor’s subjects would undertake the ceremony of the “three kneelings and nine knockings of the head on the ground.”

Confucian philosophy held that respect was important for a society, making bowing an important ritual.
Today, only vestiges of the traditional usage of the kowtow remain.

Kowtow entered the English language in the early 19th century to describe the bow itself, but its meaning soon shifted to describe any abject submission or groveling. The kowtow was a significant issue for diplomats, since it was required of everyone who came into the presence of the Emperor of China, but it meant submission before him. The British embassies of George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney (1793) and William Pitt Amherst, 1st Earl Amherst (1816) were unsuccessful, partly because kowtowing would mean acknowledging their King as a subject of the Emperor.

Did we kowtow in Beijing?

Did our proud and brash President Duterte and his 200-strong delegation perform the kowtow during his visit to China?

I don‘t mean the act of kneeling and touching the head to the ground, which disappeared with the last Chinese empress or emperor. I mean rather the analogous act of placing and reshaping our country’s foreign policy in the service of china’s interests or subordinating our own interests in the SCS to China’s own.

On the eve of Duterte’s visit, I wrote a column (“DU 30’s visit to Beijing like Chambelain’s visit to Munich in 1958,” Manila Times, Oct. 15, 2016), wherein I suggested that the visit was showing signs of being a journey of appeasement of China.

I raised the following points:

“1. DU30 will not mention the Hague arbitral award, at any point during his visit, let alone raise the issue directly with President Xi Jinping.

He is betting that for abandoning the Aquino strategy, and for pivoting away from America, China will shower him with money and respect. The visit will be evaluated in transactional terms, such as the  total amount of loans and investments it generates.

Declaration of separation from America

The performance of a kowtow was sealed and delivered by Mr. Duterte with his loud Declaration of his “separation” from the United States, on Thursday, as he rebalances the country’s relationship with China.

“I announce my separation from the United States,” he said to applause at a business forum in the Chinese capital. The audience consisted of members of his own delegation and a smattering of Chinese officials.

“America does not control our lives. Enough bullshit,” he added in a rambling speech that flipped between English and Filipino.

“How can you be the most powerful industrial country when you owe China and you are not paying it?”

Our president made the comments after he met his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square. The meeting ended with the two leaders pledging to enhance trust and friendship, while playing down the maritime dispute on the South China Sea.

Xi called the two countries “neighbours across the sea” with “no reason for hostility or confrontation,” the official Xinhua news agency reported.

For his part, DU 30 said the Philippines had gained little from its long alliance with the US, its former colonial ruler.

China, he said, was “good.” “It has never invaded a piece of my country all these generations.”

Duterte must consult

As if to underscore the discussions that will now follow the Beijing visit, Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said that Duterte’s statements are not policy until official action is taken.

In declaring separation from America, DU30 spoke of “my separation,” not the separation of the Philippines.

The President needs reminding that he is only the president (the head of one branch), not the entire Philippine Republic.

Extravagant though he often is in his speeches, his authority is limited.

The problems will come when the debates over his declarations in Beijing take place. Congress must be consulted. The Supreme Court will also have its say.

The kowtow must wait a while before collecting its rewards.



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  1. I am disappointed with you Mr. Makabenta. What is it that you don’t understand so I will explain to you. The President is trying to re-balance our foreign policy as we have been subservient with the US for over 5 decades or so and yet we remain poor and is not treated fairly by the US. What is wrong in going to China, Japan, South Korea and Russia to get investments for the country? Your candidate Binay lost it in the election, you have to accept that fact!

  2. Unlike China and Russia the USA has never defaulted on their bonds. DU30 is mistaken saying US owes China and is not paying. The USA could print trillion dollar notes tomorrow and pay every bond off since bonds are denominated in dollars. On the other hand DU30 China loans could could get very expensive if the Peso continues to sink.

  3. ano mr makabenta dilat din mata mo ngayon ano? makatira ka kay PNOY kala mo ang galing galing mo, di mo nabasa ugali at galaw ni duterte? ibebenta niyq ang pilipinas at kawalan ito ng mukha ng pilipinas sa buong mundo, inagawan ka ng property tapos manlilimos pa tayo, ano kapalit?

  4. I’m sure your so used to ass licking uncle sam’s butt that the idea of actually saying NO MORE to that is scaring you silly.

  5. being dependent and subjugated for so long, we subsconciously express the fears of slaves with the kind of comments we are getting here and all over. scared to be free. really free.

  6. Yonkers, New Yor
    22 October 2016

    The whole world waited “with baited breath” on what Little Tyrant Rodrigo Duterte would say, what he would do, and what would come out of his notoriously uncouth and vulgar mouth during his October 18-21 state visit to his new Master, Chinese President XI JINPING.

    This time the usual cuss and curse words, “Putang Ina mo!” did not come out of his mouth, proving to all and sundry that he was afraid of emitting those against XI JINPING.

    What he did was to KOIWTOW before XI JINPING and the Chinese officialdom. Here is what reportedly he declared before his new Chinese Master:


    That statement or formal declaration amounts to the Philippines’ COMMUNIST
    MANIFESTO. And it is his way of showing off his credentials as a GEOSTRATEGIC

    “Three of us against the world?” Against the United States of America, the 27 other members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Canada, Japan, Australia, Singapore and possibly also South Korea and Vietnam?

    That unusual KOWTOW of a Little Tyrant before his new Master, a Goliath, was amply rewarded with a reported
    $13.5 billion in deals–loans, trade, and investments.

    It is not clear, however, what ‘STRINGS” are attached to those “goodies.”


  7. And how long have we been kowtowing to the white man? If our white masters were treating us right how did things manage to get to this point? If you will look at the big picture, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a right-thinking president like Duterte wants to declare his independence from these iput (whites). For one, didn’t they give their unwavering support to the criminal hypocrites of the yellow regime as these morons tried their dumbest best to run down this country? These yellows are just the extension of the 500 year old anti-people elites that the West established when they first invaded these islands 500 years ago. Duterte is just expressing the native sentiments that fired up the likes of Lapu-lapu, Diego and Gabriela Silang, Rizal, Bonifacio and many others including Marcos. Do you know of any westernized colored people who are really happy with the white man? Baka mga Bobong Pinoy lang. Just take time to put things in the proper context and you will see that the Filipino is trying to assert his real self once again. Lets hope he succeeds this time. To pray for Duterte is to pray for the people.

    • George F Guillermo on

      Totally agree.. Amen! May the Almighty Lord God help us especially President Duterte in his quest to be totally free sovereign country as God is just and Truth..

  8. Did the US fail us?
    As any regular FIlipino who has seen the passage of time, it is not the US that failed us, but our own FIlipino leaders.

  9. I don’t know if you caught the first part of his statement, “I re-align myself in your idiotic flow and maybe I’ll go to Russia and talk to Putin and him there are three of us. China, Russia, and Philippines the three of us against the world.”

    So I guess what I though is right, he is a communist. His coziness with the CPP / NPA and his alignment with the three biggest communist countries make it obvious now.

    As for the USA failing us Filipinos. It was not the USA that failed us, but us Filipinos failing ourselves.

  10. Mr. Yen, respect by Kowtow or by vowing to show one’s submission to the emperor or head of the state, village or community is also visible in other Asians Cultures, for that is precisely how the head of the state should be treated in a particular culture. But the question is this one: do they give respect to other people of other nations? Do they give respect the Laws of other nations and their people? Are the proliferations of illegal drugs in the Philippines by Chinese drug lord a respect to us? Are those constructions of the artificial Islands in the Spratly and the presence of the Chinese Coast guard in the Scarborough shoal a respect to us? Mr. Yen, if I were there with you with Mr. President DU30’s delegates and the President himself, I would never be impressed by the Kowtow, because every culture possesses a character or attitude of exclusivism, self-centeredness or selfishness. That is why everywhere you go, you would feel the sense of discrimination, rudeness, and many others social deficiency or socioses. I would most likely have admired the Kowtow already if they had respected the decision of the UNCLOS in the West Philippine Sea and had they converted those artificial Islands to Fish Sanctuary after the decision had been handed down by UNCLOS, so that all people in the world would benefit from the abundance of the Sea marine products.

  11. HitlerDU30, every time you open your foul, unfiltered & dirty mouth, it has become a HABIT of mine already crossing-my-fingers & feeling uncomfortable because you are sick with ‘PSYCHOPATHY” (according to Dr. Natividad Dayan). Now, you are separating “militarily & economically” from USA in favor of China WITHOUT consulting your cabinet officials, the Senate, the House & most importantly the Filipino people. China, as we all know:
    -Does not observe or respect international law on the FINAL decision of the International Arbitrary Court / UNCLOS re our sovereignty, territorial rights & exclusive economic rights at West Philippines Sea. They continuously bully us.
    -Most of the big time manufacturers / distributors of illegal drugs are Chinese (from inside & outside the Phils)
    -Most of the fake manufactured products are made from China
    Whatever HATRED you have against the USA, just keep it to your self. DO NOT INCLUDE the entire Phil. Republic.

  12. Be a man, okay? The Children cares about right or wrong, and the man care about the practical profit. If you can not defeat Chinese army, so keep quiet. China also do not want to give lands to Russia,or leave a land issue with India. But for China,at any time, the most important thing is peace and development,make the people rich, if we are not strong, no body will show you the real respect. America helped Philippines with lands issue, but do you think it is free? If Philippines insist on lands issue with China , I think only war can solve the problem, and the America really want to fight with China? If there is war, as Dutret said, there will be nothing. So, get some development first, when people is rich and well educated, others countries will respect us, not only China. The lands are still there, we will never give up.

  13. Bert O. Romero on

    1. Sa isang iglap, seventy years of RP -US relations were thrown under the bus. The decision was as ill – conceived as its timing was ill-timed. It is most likely that the ” separation” pronouncement was not known to the other official members of Duterte’s entourage much less to the accompanying non-official or business delegations. As Secretary Lorenzana revealed during his Wednesday’s confirmation hearing by the senate, Duterte does not consult his cabinet before making policy pronouncements.

    2. Justifying the decision as ” my ” separation and not that of the Philippines does not detract from the reality that Duterte has just aligned the Philippines with an aspiring regional power, China, and has distanced himself from the only remaining global hegemon. The US may owe China 1.5 trillion dollars in terms of the latter’s government bonds and treasury bills, which continuously earn interests for China, mind you, China herself owes some Middle Eastern countries almost similar amounts under liberal and concessionary terms ! Did the US fail us ?

    3. Compare 333 years of Spanish colonization with 48 years of American tutelage. Weren’t the native Indios deprived the right to education excepting the few lucky ones who emerged the Illustrados and became the vanguard for continuous Spanish colonization spiced with calls for limited reforms. It’s no wonder these Illustrados enjoyed their stay in Barcelona while purportedly waging the propaganda movement while their Indio counterparts were risking limbs and lives waging armed rebellion through the Katipunan. Wasn’t education one of the first priorities of the American colonization with the arrival of the Thomasites and the introduction of free public school system? Wasn’t the eradication of measles, malaria and other tropical diseases a priority of the American public health system ? Did the US fail us?

    4. Why did the Philippines fail to take off economically when the same opening up to trade / export policies were introduced to Japan, Korea, Taiwan etc as they were to the Philippines. The same flying geese model of development , punctuated by export -,oriented trade policies, was introduced to these East Asian and Pacific countries , including the
    Philippines. Why did these other countries attain emerging countries status in the 70’s, 80’s , 90’s and the turn of the century while the Philippines lagged behind and was ” the sick man of Asia ” until very recently ? Was it internal corruption and false leaders that did us in? Or did the US fail us?

    5. Why did the Philippines fail to take advantage of the security umbrella provided by the US after World War II and until now which arrangement has been availed of and, more importantly, taken advantage of by our now more progressive neighbors? Why does communist insurgency persist in our country to this day making the Philippine variety the longest running communit insurgency in the world ? Did the US not provide us adequate military assistance, equipment, personnel training/scholarship, exercises etc? Or did the US fail us?

    6. True to its democratic values and tradition , the US introduced and promoted electoral process and practices which made the Philippines the first Asian country to hold free elections in 1907. Through the decades, election has become the way of life for changing Filipino leaders. It may be defective, but as Churchill once said ” democracy may be worse but show me a better form of government.” Or did the US fail us?

    7. In contemporary Philippine history , the US has opened its doors to 3.5 Filipino immigrants, sanctuary to those with opposing political beliefs resulting even to the changing of the incumbent leadership in the home country, and opportunities to those Filipinos aiming to better their lives and those of their families, including the family of the incumbent Filipino foreign secretary. Or did the US fail us?

    8. Mr. President, Secretary Yasay, HOW did the US fail us?

  14. What we are getting are loans which will benefit only those who are close to the powers that be. Such loans become behest loans which will be paid the common people eventually. This is no time to celebrate, instead it is a time for mourning as the president has sold the country to a greedy government.

  15. DU30 neither is fooling China nor playing the US on the palm of his hand as he boasted before but himself. This genocidal maniac knows the pressure is mounting for him to answer for at least 3,700 fellow Filipino he has murdered.

    • Please spare us the inane comments and look beyond your bias or am I demanding too much from your limited mental capacity, I digress.

    • You are assuming that Duterte is the same as the greedy leaders ahead of him.We have not shed off our colonial mind set. We can be friends and stay in business with America, but not always the little brown brother kow-towing America. Now America is scrumbling to keep us in and perhaps now give us a better deal.

    • Please put objective criticism and not destructive criticism …. if you don’t know that then don’t comment. We don’t need low level reasoning on this column.

  16. Can’t even get your history date correct. Chamberlain signed the Munich Agreement in 1938, not 1958. The PH President maybe only one of the three power centers in the country but he is the most powerful as he constitute the Executive. The other two power centers, Congress and the Supreme court only have supporting roles to play and to see that the constitution is followed. Du30 with is massive support from the PH electorates is standing on firm ground in any contest with Congress. No members of Congress would want to challenge the President on political grounds. It is the President that makes foreign policy, not members of congress. It appears to me that your political sympathy is out of sync with the rest of your compatriots and you remain a running dog of Uncle Sam.

    • Vagoneto Rieles on

      Of the 54million voters, Duterte had 16million. The balance of 38million who opted for someone else…or who, in any case, did not vote for him, is what’s massive. Let’s try to project an honest picture here. What’s at stake is also ‘massive’.

  17. Well, from my perspective, China rolled out the red carpet. Duterte seems to have received more respect than his American counterpart. The president did his job and brought back opportunities to help make significant inroads in the weak infrastructure of the Philippines.

    It is now in the hands of the Congress and the Supreme Court to take advantage of it. Or to throw it away. Let us see how well they can execute their jobs. Or will this be another opportunity lost like so many before it?

    • Michael, do you mean to say congress and SC, are asking “magkano akin”, that’s taking advantage of it, they cannot throw it away, because they always do a clean job, unless investigated. LOL

  18. Silverio Cabellon Jr., on

    China did not accede anything to the Philippines. They are still at Scarborough Shoal.

    • Of course they won’t! They might give Duterte a big loan but the West Philippines sea is out of bounds for the Filipinos. Only this time Duterte can’t argue about our territory now that the Philippines is indebted to China.

    • Understanding the expletives is one thing, another is working towards the betterment of the people … If you want to weigh in his capacity, which do you prefer to favor … the expletives or the working? Remember you can’t get all you want …. Tip: It’s better to get first the change for the better and make adjustment later to the expletives.

    • I agree and this is sad. Many people do not want to travel to The Philippines now, Invest in the Philippines or hire people from The Philippines.

      He has just gone to another country for more charity. Begging for money from foreign countries seems to be opposite of what his intentions was.

      He is a beggar and China will keep the Phillippines $5 Trllion worth of land, oil, gas and fish in return.

      China killed many Philippine fishermen in recent years within Philippine waters.. why not big stories about this fact?

    • WHY? just because there are fanatics who has the same way of thinking like Duterte? There are silent majority of Filipinos who doesn’t agree with what Duterte is doing and just watching in the sidelines..we will never know what might happen in the days to come.