THE annual Boaoforum last week in China’s Hainan island province in the South China Sea close to Vietnam unwrapped Beijing’s priority requirement to be the world’s top economic and political-military superpower: energy to fuel its economy.
The forum is China’s counterpart to the yearly Davos economic summit conference of the world’s leaders to expand the growing Chinese development into the 21st century, aimed at the US, Russia, Europe as its competitors. Obviously, it looks to the developing countries of Latin America, Africa, Central Asia, and particularly the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which is predicted to be the fastest growing region in the next two decades.
For scholars who have been following the Chinese development and goals, and those old enough to experience the second world war and still see the geopolitical trends today, China is clearly copying the strategic diplomacy the superpowers implemented from 1945 to 1991primarily for their own individual national interests. Helping the world recover from the war ruins “and uplift” nations was incidental, but a vital factor to attain theirobjectives.
There were the Marshall Plan for the European post-war reconstruction and ideological war (Cold War) with communist Russia and China, and the war reparations payment scheme (imposed on Japan) for the Asia-Pacific region.
Today, the Boao forum showed China is harping on “helping the developing (translation: poverty-ridden) countries “uplift their economies and lives” by offering them financial and technical assistance for infrastructure build up—to increase trade and people’s interaction and commercial transactions. Beijing uses the UN millennium goals—topped by “eradication of extreme poverty” in the world.
(Infrastructure and the attendant construction activities it generates has more than 100 times multiplier effects, or one infrastructure or construction job creates more than 100 more livelihood derivatives or incomes from employment.)
The energy needs of the Beijing regimewere not mentioned as media coverage of the Hainan forum played up the bilateral talks between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Their primary agenda: joint exploration of the West Philippine Sea (which reputedly holds “huge” oil reserves and species of fish (mainly tuna and pelagic types for food).
It must not be forgotten that China has a territorial dispute with the Philippines in that part of the South China Sea (SCS) it claims almost wholly. China has disputes with Vietnam, Brunei, and Malaysia too. In fact, the final Code of Conduct in the SCS between China and the Asean countries is still unwritten. Beijing has been delaying it for the past 15 years. And China wants to negotiate with each of the four, on a one-on-one basis only.
The media coverage in the Philippine news organizations did not mention oil or fuel as the main topic of the Xi-Duterte bilateral talks. The principal news was the agreement to cooperate (“shoulder to shoulder”) against international terrorism, illegal drugs and criminality and as “partners” in economic development.
The supplements China bought in the major Manila newspapers printed the speech of Xi and the promises of the forum. Side stories played the “interests” of “Chinese businessmen to invest in eight projects ranging from power plants to agri-tourism and pharmaceutical processing plants, amounting to $9.45 billion.
China had approached Duterte as early as January last year for joint exploration and development of two areas in the West Philippine Sea: Service Contract 57 northwest of Palawan and west of Calamian Island. This was to be jointly between the China National Offshore Oil Co. and the Philippine National Oil Company and the Mitra Energy Corp.
The other is Service Contract 72 in the Reed Bank between the CNOOC and Philex Petroleum Corp. and the Monte Oro Resource and Energy Inc.
As our experiences with world powers plainly show, the Philippines has been on the shorter end of the stick in our negotiations. This was the case with Spain and the US. Some of our national leaders in those times claimed we had “no choice” because we were weak and poor. And our negotiators did their best.
Those are admittedly water under the bridge. But we should have learned our lesson. We, as a people in those eras, did not have the logistics and facilities for current and accurate information and data to arm our negotiators.
But this century is different. All the data and intelligence our diplomats and security forces need are available if one knows where to look for them. The advances in communications technology and data storage and retrieval systems are there for the picking.
This goes for all the 10 Asean member states, including tech-advanced and smart-city state Singapore. Written promises of the Boao forum can be diametrically opposite of the Chinese interpretation of the verbiage when it comes to implementing whatever agreement was signed and sealed.
An official of a small telecommunication firm (who prefers not to be named; he did not name the Chinese firm either) I was talking to last weekend related their “China experience.” He said they signedthe memorandum of agreement which specified “they were going to ‘provide’ the funding of the satellite link project. We aborted it because when we asked for the date of release of their funds, they said ‘no it is not our money. We will look for the owner of the money’.”
My two-peso worth of unsolicited suggestion for our negotiators (which I am almost sure they must be aware of, too): China has other geopolitical issues it must consider in its total diplomatic approaches.
Take Beijing’s close ally North Korea. Leaders of the communist North and the free democratic South will meet next month, presumably on denuclearization and reunification issues. Then US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jung-un are scheduled to meet in May. Xi invited Kim to Beijing for talks (translation: briefing and debriefing) two weeks ago.
Then there is the closer cooperation now between South Korea and Japan. Both are on the radar screen of China as major players in the economic and military arenas of the Asia-Pacific region and close allies of the US.
Consider also last year’s agreement between India and Japan creating the South Asia and Asia-Pacific economic corridor to facilitate closer trade and political arrangements between the regions that account for more than 1.7 billion of the world’s seven billion population.
China also has domestic political problems in Tibet and the separatist rebel Uighurs in the northwest province of Xinjiang. It has territorial disputes with India too.
These are all important links China weighs when it comes to its ultimate goal by 2049: to replace the US as the top economic power and possess the world’s military manpower and arsenal “to defend its territory” (against whom?). Diplomacy will work for us if we know how and when to use it!
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