Powerful friends?

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Mike Wootton

Mike Wootton

There is a lot of negative comment about the USA “threatening” a greater presence in the Philippines, spurred by the issues with China over the South China Sea dispute and the aggressive rhetoric and actions of the Chinese.

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“Get out, American imperialists,” etc. Even Ibon, which I normally find taking a view similar to my own on certain issues, is showing itself to be fiercely anti-American.

As things stand, given China’s burgeoning expansionism—its government has promised its people that it will secure the Nansha for China because it belongs to China, and when you publicly promise 1.3 billion fairly aggressive individuals whose minds and opinion you control via the Xinhua news agency that as a nation you will do something for them, it’s not too easy to back down and lose face.

The Philippines, to its credit, has stood up against the Chinese steamroller but clearly it is in no position to get into a fight other than in the United Nations arbitration court. So just how many skirmishes can there be around the Spratly Islands and the other miscellaneous lumps of rock before something goes badly wrong? Not too many, I suspect.

I find it a bit over-idealistic and nationalistic that closer ties with the USA should generate such ire from certain quarters; the same quarters in many cases that make a fuss about the lack of credibility and capacity of government, particularly in the light of massive political corruption scandals, lack of professionalism and the clear lack of any worthwhile economic achievement over the past four years, not to mention the massive growth in the divide between the rich and everybody else.

While there is much that can be said negatively about the USA and its foreign policy; its use of drones, its lack of respect for sovereignty when it suits itself and its ambitions for increasing the business opportunities of its own companies sometimes by irregular means, it has had a close relationship with the Philippines [50 years of colonialism followed by the military bases utilization]. It was instrumental in the utilization of the English language, it established a system of government and a legal system, the educational system and, together with the Catholic Church, it introduced some western Christian values and beliefs, and there is no question that it has poured lots of money into the Philippines economy, and still does.

The Philippines particularly now would benefit from some external influence in order to make for a more egalitarian society and greater efficiency of the way in which it operates. Real foreign direct investment is needed and real jobs and opportunity need to be created. The way things are now is just a “no hope” situation. I have little doubt that China would welcome greater opportunity to involve itself in the Philippines as a sort of regional big brother, but there is also little doubt that such help would come at a very high cost and would greatly impinge on sovereignty; and let’s face it, there is no track record of effective Chinese colonization, they have no experience of that [unless you count Tibet]and little experience of operating outside their own homeland.

To my mind, while closer links with the USA would be a less attractive option than, say, closer links with Europe, many of whose nations have a long and reasonable history of effective and contributive colonization, a bit of strong advice backed up with serious financial capability from a mature and powerful nation with many shared values, on the subject of how to get the Philippines moving forward can only be a good thing, can’t it? Otherwise, the Philippines can stand alone until somebody gets really serious about impinging sovereignty, depend on Asean for what that is worth, or let China take over . . .

Better to think about what can be gained from a closer relationship than what loss may come about.

Mike can be contacted at mawootton@gmail.com

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