• Getting to know Premier Li Keqiang



    The line of approaching the China-PH dispute in the South China Sea on yardsticks of economics rather than politics was even more amplified in the regular Breakfast Forum sponsored by Wilson Lee in his Kamuning Bakery in Quezon City. On the panel of guests were former ISAFP Chief General Victor Corpus, former Ambassador Alberto Encomienda and former USEC Antonio “Butch” Valdez.

    Encomienda stated that in the unfolding drama of the 31st Asean Summit, “everything is over but the shouting.” Ambassador Encomienda, who revealed that as a diplomat his first assignment was the South China dispute, should know whereof he spoke: all that the summit needs to pass upon is a done deal.

    In regard to Premier Li Keqiang’s task in the event, this means the announced high-level meetings he will be attending from November 12 to 16 will simply be ministerial in nature, that is, formalizing the nitty-gritty of agreements already reached beforehand. On the question of China’s persistence in aiding the economic development of countries the world over, the Asean Summit becomes a major venue for affirming it.

    Without exception, all 10 member nations of the Southeast Asia grouping (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) have over the recent years availed of Chinese aid in this direction. Proofs are the Morowali Tsingshan Industrial Park in Indonesia, Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone in Cambodia, Malaysia-China Kuautan Industrial Park, Thai Chinese Rayong Industrial Zone, Tagaung Taung Nickel Mine in Myanmar, and Saysettha Development Zone in Laos. Recent figures from the Philippine-Asia Institute for Strategic Studies (PAISS) show the following availments by Asean countries of Chinese investments (from highest to lowest, in million dollars): Singapore, 4,963; Laos, 1,357; Indonesia, 1,328; Thailand, 443; Malaysia, 408; Vietnam, 323; Myanmar, 206; Philippines, 24.

    Note that the Philippines is at the bottom of the list. Does this not speak of the really wrong way the country has been pursuing its relations with China? It is even below Vietnam, which of late has manifested heavy leaning on the United States in the US-China row over the South China Sea.

    And yet China has never been wanting in concrete gestures to prove its treatment of the Philippines as a small brother over whom to shelter, guard and protect. At the height of the disaster wrought by Typhoon Yolanda in Western Visayas in 2013, even before the Philippine President could decide whether or not to come to the aid of Tacloban and Samar, China speedily dispatched a high-end hospital ship to extend medical assistance to thousands of victims. In the ongoing anti-illegal drugs war by President Duterte, China alone has thought of donating an enormous drugs rehabilitation center, realizing that such a center is a fundamental requirement, based on China’s own fight against illegal drugs, if the Duterte drugs campaign is to succeed. In the Marawi crisis, China was first to donate needed heavy equipment for use in the rehabilitation of the war-ravaged Muslim city.

    As announced in a press briefing by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on November 6, 2017, Premier Li Keqiang will hold talks with President Rodrigo Duterte and meet with Senate President Aquilino Pimentel and House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez.

    “The leaders of the two countries will have an in-depth exchange of views on how to deepen China-Philippines relations in the new era, practical cooperation in various fields and regional and international issues of common concern. They will also attend the foundation stone laying ceremony and the launching ceremony of a project funded and built by China (the additional two bridges across Pasig River, the Intramuros-Binondo in Manila; and the Estrella-Pantaleon in Pasig). During the visit, the two sides intend to issue a joint statement that reflects the major consensus and achievements of the visit. It is expected to reach a series of important cooperation achievements in such fields as infrastructure, economy, trade, investment, social and people-to-people and cultural engagement,” went the Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.

    Couched in diplomatic finesse, you don’t get much meat from the statement.

    The statements made at the Kamuning Bakery forum proved to be more substantial. I had been envisioning a one-on-one with the Chinese Premier (coming as he does fresh from the successful conclusion of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China) whose answers to questions must reflect whatever changes there have been in China’s attitudes, predilections and dispositions in dealing with neighbors and with the world.

    To former ISAFP Chief Victor Corpus, whose opening statement seemed to depict a no-conflict scenario between the Philippines and China, I posed this question: “How does your narrative reconcile with a recent pronouncement by President Duterte to his troops that in a dialogue with China he will insist on confining that dialogue within the ‘four corners of the PCA ruling?”

    Vic’s response was a veritable discourse. His view was actually a replication of the concerns raised at the George Siy-sponsored forum at the Tower Club: that the economic approach must be pursued in resolving the South China conflict for that solution to be a win-win one for everyone. General Corpus, himself once a member of the Communist Party of the Philippines, knows how a communist thinks and he was very assertive in propounding the Chinese position on the issue: that according to all known laws, he who first discovers a territory owns that territory, and historical records abound that China has long exercised sovereignty over the South China Sea.

    “China will never surrender that sovereignty,” Vic declared.

    And yet, China, said Vic, is not even asserting such sovereignty. China wants complete cooperation with all nations – the United States included – in developing the region not only for China but for the whole international community as well.

    Vic’s discourse contained insights and perceptions deserving of an independent elucidation in this column.

    Suffice it to say for now, former USEC Butch Valdez contributed his own enlightening view, citing the Treaty of Westphalia, which in 1648 ended all the religious wars in Europe: the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) in the Holy Roman Empire; and the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic.

    Only when nations stop warring against one another can true social development be achieved. Since the Westphalian Peace, Europe became a model for world economic development of nations.

    The Treaty of Westphalia ushered in the new era of diplomacy whereby nations came to recognize the individual sovereignty of states, a balance of power was established in order for one nation not to engage in aggression against another. The Treaty of Westphalia is universally regarded as the precursor of today’s international law.

    Will Premier Li draw from this Westphalian formula an approach to truly achieving China’s avowed aim, as expressed by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, on his participation in the Asean Summit and his official visit to the Philippines?

    Note that there is here no mentioning at all a potential encounter by Premier Li with US President Trump, who reportedly was given a “State Visit Plus” status just days ago. If I get to get that most coveted one-on-one with Premier Li, all other questions being answerable here-and-now, the only question I will ask is: “Between China and the United States, what is cooking?”


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