IT is hoped that the recent tete-a-tete between the heads of today’s superpowers at Mar-a-Lago made clear the obvious fact that conflict in today’s world between superpowers and even smaller nations who now have nuclear capability is, to say the least, catastrophic.
China, the world’s second largest economy and largest importer of natural resources is expected to beef up its security. This is the natural flow of history.
It would be wrong, however, for the world to see this development as a precursor to hegemonic tendencies.
These suspicions can only escalate tensions. China is fully aware that the cost of hegemony far outweighs the benefits. China faces Russia in the north; Japan and Korea, with US military alliances, to the east; Vietnam and India to the south; and Indonesia and Malaysia not far away. Indeed, most of these countries have a credible defense force and will not likely succumb meekly to invasion as was the case against the Japanese in the last world war.
Another reason for Chinese hesitancy is the fact that it has yet to consolidate its economic gains given that the interior of China is still largely underdeveloped.
The Sino-US relationship cannot fall into the Thucydides trap which is zero-sum gaming. There is by far a lot of complementarity in their relationship which today could be developed into a win-win situation.
But both sides have the responsibility to take into account each other’s phobias. Obama’s pivot to Asia and the movement of 60 percent of its navy to the Asia Pacific in an obvious containment policy vis-à-vis China can only feed Chinese phobia that an outside power or powers will establish military deployments around China’s periphery capable of encroachments on its territory. Whenever China perceived a threat to its territorial integrity, it went to war –in Korea in 1950, against India in 1962, along the northern border with the Soviet Union in 1969, and against Vietnam in 1979.
On the other hand, America’s fear is of being pushed out of Asia and losing its dominance of the Asia Pacific which she enjoyed after World War II.
Both the US and China have expressed time and time again their determination to have a modus vivendi in the Asia-Pacific region and to respect each other’s vital interests. They are joined in these aspirations by other Asian countries, many of them significant powers in their own right, like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. These countries will insist on developing their capacities for their own national reasons, not as part of a contest of outside powers. They do not regard themselves as favoring US containment policy, nor of a revived Chinese tributary order. They will aspire to good relations with both China and the US and will resist pressure to “choose” between the two.
Can the fear of hegemony of the US and the nightmare of military encirclement of China be reconciled?
The concept of a Pacific Community whereby the US and China could co-evolve, wherein their two societies could progress on parallel, albeit on different tracks, would ensure that the US and China pool efforts, with each other and with other states, to bring about a more stable world order.
This year the Philippines is hosting the Asean summit which raises the hope that the contentious issue of the South China Sea, claimed by some countries, including ours, will finally be resolved with the signing of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea that will cease to be just a lofty aspiration and become an enforceable document.
MOU between PCFR and the CPIFA
Last Monday in Manila, the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations, an organization established in 1985 by some of our most distinguished diplomats, signed a memorandum of understanding with its Chinese counterpart, the Chinese Peoples Institute of Foreign Affairs, to cooperate in advancing Track 2 diplomacy, or people-to-people dialogue, as distinguished from Track 1 diplomacy which involves government-to-government negotiations. The MOU initiates Track 2 diplomacy between this country and China
The advantage of this mechanism is that policy options and possible solutions to crisis situations can be derived from public discussions away from the negotiating table where oftentimes hardline positions are already cast in stone without the benefit of public scrutiny, at least in this country.
In the history of international relations, many Track 2 positions have resulted in Track 1.5 diplomacy where state and non-state actors cooperate in conflict resolution. This is only proper given that foreign policy is an extension of domestic policy which is not only concerned with foreign policy but also with development issues, be they be socio-economic or even cultural.
In the case of the PCFR given its broad membership which include retired members of the foreign service, the military establishment, academia and the business sector, it is well positioned to propose for consideration by the government balanced foreign policy initiatives which will be the product of extensive workshops, in-depth analysis and dialogues with partners like its Chinese counterpart..
The first activity following the signing of the MOU was a roundtable discussion held at the Development Academy of the Philippines. The undersigned opened up the forum with an observation which was framed as a question, the gist of which was the following:
Given the good relations between this country and China which spans some 1,000 years and has produced a few million Chinese-Filipinos, why are we now engaged in territorial disputes and how can we overcome this which I agree is not the sum total of our relations?
The opening statement was followed by a lively discussion which we hope will be the precursor of even more productive interactions in the near future.
Ambassador Jose V. Romero Jr is the chairman of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations.