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Will we be the West’s ‘tank man’ vs China?

I CERTAINLY hope we won’t, or President Duterte’s term will see an economic downturn, a year or so after what this overexcited Solicitor General Jose Calida called the country’s “crowning glory,” our victory in the UNCLOS case we filed against China at the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It’s a real possibility, though, that Calida’s crown of glory could be our crown of thorns.

Remember the “tank man” during the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989? He was the man carrying what looked like a small plastic grocery bag, who stepped in front of a column of People’s Liberation Army tanks, trying to stop them on the way to the square to crush the “democracy” demonstrators there who had been convinced that they were on the way to replicating our 1986 “People Power Revolution.”

The photo of the bold man in front of the tank column became an iconic image of the noble, heroic resistance not only of the youth against Chinese dictatorship, but of democracy movements all over the world. However, and sadly, the Chinese Communist Party didn’t follow the Marcos playbook, and instead very violently crushed the “democracy movement.” According to non-Chinese estimates, a thousand young protesters were killed and another thousand imprisoned, rotting in dingy prisons to this day.

The world of course was outraged, with the European Economic Community suspending even its official development loans, and the US stopping its military sales and high-level contacts with China. Pundits predicted China will be the world’s pariah, and investors will be shunning it.

What happened was the opposite. It was in 1991, when the memory of the Tiananmen massacre started to fade, that China’s economy started to zoom, at a phenomenal 9 percent GDP growth so that in the 10 years after Tiananmen, its average GDP growth was an amazing 10 percent (ours was a pathetic 3 percent). That was the start of China’s emergence as an economic superpower. American, European, and Japanese investors flocked to China, evading a country that had won its People Power Revolution—us.

What happened to the poor “tank man”? Actually, a soldier simply got out of his tank and shoved him aside, and the column rumbled on to the square. The foreign press, which had cheered him, got tired of him. Nobody even knows his name, or determined with certainty whether he was imprisoned, still in prison, or executed. He was most probably killed—maybe even with his family—as he would have come out publicly now to claim his right to be recognized as democracy’s hero. That’s the harsh reality of this unfair world.

The heroic tank man of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising. Nobody learned happened, the parties would what his name was, and whether he was imprisoned or killed.
The heroic tank man of the 1989 Tiananmen uprising. The world couldn’t even know what his name was and whether he was imprisoned or killed.

Deja vu
It was Jose Santiago (“Chito”) Sta. Romana, who lived and worked in China for 30 years, with his last job as ABC Beijing Bureau Chief, who saw a deja vu between the global demand for China to comply with the PAC’s recent award on the South China Sea dispute and the international outrage against the country over the Tiananmen Square massacre. “China will not buckle under international pressure, as it didn’t in 1989,” he said in a television interview.

I agree with him, and despite our own legal experts’ certainty that the PAC conclusions are incontrovertible, China could raise a lot of arguments against these, foremost I think involves the issue on how arbitration—which is in the very name of the body—could involve a party that is not willing to be arbitrated.

The West, especially the US, has been ecstatic over the award, as its declaration that China’s “nine-dash line is nonsense, is a colossal propaganda weapon against the emerging superpower, especially against its activities in the region where the US or any European nation really has no business in being involved. Their message: “Trust us, not China which a world body has concluded is illegally expanding its territory in the South China Sea.”

How I wish the other richer claimants—like Taiwan, Brunei, and even Malaysia—had leaders like President Aquino, who could easily be led by the nose by the US, so they would have instead filed the case against China, instead of us.

Taiwan, after all, is already considered by China as  its illegal breakaway territory,  while tiny Brunei Darussalam and hi-tech Malaysia are rich nations, with their GDP per capita at $36,600 and $9,800, respectively, making us with our $2,900 GDP per capita look like paupers.

But no. It was this pauper that took on China, spending at least $30 million for its case at the PCA, and whose “netizens” are now calling for a trade boycott against the economic superpower. Boycott?

Right, but here are the realities in 2014, not 2000.

Accounting for just 5 percent of our imports in 2000, China (including Hong Kong) in 2014 accounts for 18 percent of our shipments from the world. Japan and the US’s shares, which in 2000 each accounted for 17 percent of our imports, are now down to 8 percent each.

And what’s the share (in 2014) of Chinese (including Hong Kong) imports from the Philippines? Some 1.1 percent. And the share of Chinese exports to the Philippines to its total exports? Some 0.94 percent

If the meaning of those figures aren’t clear yet, let me put it this way. If some crazy Chinese Communist Party leader manages to get his government to just declare, let’s just forget about this troublesome Philippines, the Chinese economy won’t likely miss us, as its trade with us is just 1 percent of their total trade.

In our case, though, we’ll have a lot of empty shelves in our supermarkets, and certain industries will be starved of their raw materials as 18 percent of these come from China, including 99- percent likely the cell phone you use to post those anti-Chinese memes on Facebook.

Duterte has his work cut out from him, because his stupid predecessor decided to be America’s “tank man.” He should fire Calida with his public gloating over the award, as his statements would be interpreted as the official government position. Duterte should plan how to prevent the country from being the West’s “tank man.”


This Post Has 18 Comments

  1. Anton

    Bilateral or multilateral whatever works but we should also be ready militarily by contine afp modernization to patrol our EEZ and occupy whatever is left. We need to protect our fishermen and oil and gas exploratio . If we cannot we should stop calling ourselves a nation. It China fires at our forces there will be a world condemnation

  2. fidel S. Pescador

    It’s better to stick what the PCA stipulated in their decision and don’t let china get the upper hand or level to our advantage…Philippines should abide the PCA rulings…God bless Philippines…

  3. Let Itgo

    Haughtiness, that is China

  4. francis liew

    I like Tiglao way of putting forth his version of real politic. You may not like it but it sticks in your throat giving you an awful feeling. We should have leaders like that instead of Gringos pimps. I believe Du30 is like that. Just watch him talk to the drug Lord, Alfredo Lim. We should have leaders who talk to the Americans this way, straight from the hips cowboy style. “If you want us to take on the Chinese, pay upfront and I don’t mean peanuts.”
    Several examples by Tiglao is noteworthy. Take the tank man at TAM. Probably rotting in prison somewhere with his family as well as we don’t get a word of what happened to him since 1989. If the Philippine should take on China, would the west help us and not abandon us to an uncertain fate?
    It is best for poor people or a poor nation to keep a low profile. Let the richer nations take on the cudgel. Why should we be a pansy for them, least of all Uncle Sam.
    If some crazy communist leader in China should abandon trade relationship with the Philippine, then we are the one with the proverbial up the creek without a paddle. Wise words indeed, why step on the tiger tail?

  5. SAM

    Kung ako sa Pilipinas, i oorder ko na magpadala ng Navy sa Lugar ba yun…At pag nagkagulo ay malaking issue sa mundo at don na kikiloas ang mga ka alyado..hanggang ma reolve ang problema,,Habang walang pangyayari magaganap don ay wala mangyayari at patuloy lang ang china don.Alangan mauna ang US at ka alayado neto,kailangan may dahilan at ang gagawa ng dahilan ay Pilipinas..

  6. Jett Rink

    But Mr. Bobi, what happened already happened. I agree PNoy was an idiot and autistic in many things, but in this issue a clear majority of Pinoys will agree with his action vs China. Pres. Duterte will do what is good for RP, be it bilateral, multi-lateral, or backdoor talks with the Chinese. But once in a while just smile and feel happy on certain occassions, and this one merits some kudos. Not to the hangers on like Delima, Valte , et,al who went to the Hague, but to del Rosario, Carpio, Jardeleza, and the lawyers who pleaded our case. Konting ngiti naman Bobi. President Digong might even surprise you with a diplomatic post in the future, something I know you surely miss.

  7. Migs Doromal

    @ RT

    Please do an article on Shunji Yanai. Japan PM Abe’s adviser and ITLOS head who appointed the 4 of 5 members sitting as judges on the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

    1. jack reacher

      aha .. so there are 4-5 japanese members on the PCA.

  8. Bugoy

    Wether we like it or not, the best solution is bilateral talks but if we really insist in getting our territories back lets just prepare for the consequences.

  9. leon

    Thank you again Sir Tiglao for the enlightenment. An old saying states “Who has the gold rules.” It applies to our situation with China.

    1. SAM

      Ikaw ang taong pag may gera sa pilipinas ay MAKAPILI ka..wala ka bayag,,,makalamon ka lang kahit gahasain ang buong pamilya mo..

  10. Boy Kuto

    Boycott is neither the answer nor the solution.

    Bilateral talks could partly provide us some dilis in the South China Sea while bearing witness to how the chinese fishermen haul tons of fresh tuna and endangered marine species to their vessels.

    But then, bilateral talks could partly diffuse the animosity between the superpower China and the superpowerless Pinas, thus sparing us of more bullying at the diplomatic level..

    A little and futile standoffs against their navy could possibly help as it would draw international media attention and putting the USA and China into periodic verbal tussles. Nervousness sometimes tones down haughtiness. Let these two countries worry from their own follies.

    Hi! Boo Hi!

  11. justin

    It seems that Philippines don’t understand China. Powerful country makes rules while weak countries obey rules. China said it will not recognize PCA ruling. Let us expect the world to watch and do not nothing. The world needs China.

    1. L A

      Really? Do you really know what you are talking about? Just as Mr. Marcos provided them with their first monet, it is tsai-nha who needs the Philippines most. Go back to your history books and look at what that fiefdom is before our country recognized that gang.

  12. Renato jose

    Question is,,, what kind of products do we export to China and what products do we import from china? My Guess ONLY is we export food items (like bananas and mangoes and maybe even fish) while we import non food and non essental items for survival which we can easily get from other countries though maybe more expensive but more durable. So if other countries support our boycot then china may have food shortage,, which is basically the reason why they eat almost anything?

    1. cris

      i’m sure you did not pass your simple mathematics during your schooling years. how did you calculate that china by boycotting our export will result a food shortage to them. at 1% export they will be starved?then you say

      “So if other countries support our boycot then china may have food shortage,, which is basically the reason why they eat almost anything?”

      even in your dreams that will not happen. china now owns the global trade, it’s no longer the US or the west. with 1.5 billion population, the world can’t afford to loose this large market.

    2. L

      It’s great to be simple minded, Renato.

  13. Rex

    Sober, well-said!

Comments are closed.