Will PH benefit from China’s leadership change?

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TITA C. VALDERAMA

WHEN President Duterte visited Beijing in October last year, he laid down his administration’s foreign policy of weaning the Philippines away from economic and military dependence on the United States and fostering closer ties with China.

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This gives us reason to eagerly await the outcome of the upcoming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) as Chinese President Xi Jinping begins a second five-year term with a firm resolve to boost China’s economy and overtake the US as the world’s largest.

The National Congress is the supreme organ, representing the highest level of leadership, of the CPC. It meets every five years. When the National Congress concludes, the Central Committee becomes its leading organ.

World leaders are closely watching the big event, starting on October 18, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, primarily because of the possible far-reaching changes in the makeup of the top leadership of the CPC. A majority of the Politburo standing committee (the top decision-making body) is expected to retire during the congress.

During Duterte’s 2016 state visit to Beijing, he said he wanted his political party, the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) to train its members in the ways of China’s ruling party, the CPC.

China has a one-party system while the Philippines has a multi-party democratic system of governance. China defines its ideology as socialism with Chinese characteristics, while the Philippines is in a democracy, although Duterte has been claiming that he is a socialist.

Duterte has been to China twice: in October 2016 and May 2017. He attended a Belt and Road Forum last May along with 29 other Asian leaders. He said he wanted to learn more about the economies of other nations and how they operate so as to boost their connectivity. The forum, he said, would serve as a platform to learn about experiences of economic development and exchange views on several matters.

Duterte also said China’s Belt and Road initiative fits in with the Philippines’ 2017-2022 development plan, especially in infrastructure development, and offers tremendous cooperation possibilities for both countries.

While Xi Jinping will continue to be in power in the next five years, will the new composition of the Politburo standing committee be more aggressive or will it be more consultative in dealing with neighbors in Asia like the Philippines? Will its stand on the disputed territories with the Philippines remain firm or will it soften against the 2016 ruling of the Hague arbitral tribunal?

In a recent briefing at the International Department of the CPC in Beijing for 25 Asian journalists, including a representative from The Manila Times, Shi Guohui, deputy director general of the Bureau of Foreign Affairs Coordination of the Central Committee’s international department, said the 19th National Congress is important because it will introduce new concepts, thoughts and strategies for governing the country of 1.3 billion people.

During the National Congress, China’s two centenary goals will be presented alongside the achievements in the last five years under the Xi Jinping leadership.

These achievements include the revival of the ancient Maritime Silk Road and the Belt and Road program that are aimed at developing and industrializing China’s domestic market and link it with the world through a complicated network of roads, bridges, railways and airports.

China’s overarching national goal is to achieve what President Xi calls the “Chinese Dream” of “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”. It envisions a “Community of Common Destiny” harmonizing the Chinese dream of development and prosperity with those of other countries, especially with neighboring states.

China aims to achieve its domestic policy goals and outward blueprint, carrying out a layered diplomatic strategy to have a favorable external environment through a strategy called “neighborhood diplomacy” which aims to promote amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, and inclusiveness.

China has lately been aggressive in pursuing economic (trade, investments, and infrastructure) and multilateral diplomacy, such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

Beijing has apparently succeeded in luring Duterte to support its goal of overtaking the US economy, given the Philippine President’s pronouncements against the US and the country’s dependence on US economic and military aid.

But then, China has also won Duterte to its side on the long-running conflict over disputed territories in the South China Sea, setting side the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration that struck a blow to China’s sweeping historical claims in the region when it ruled on a case brought by Manila against Beijing in 2013.

While the Philippines stands to learn a lot from China’s experiences, specifically on its industrialization strategy that has propelled it to being the world’s second largest economy next to the US, surrendering sovereignty over the territories that are clearly within the international territorial delineation is another issue altogether.

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