TERESITA Sy-Coson, the country’s richest billionaire and matriarch of SM, the Philippines’ biggest conglomerate, last week stunned the little brown American military brass and noisy Coast Guard when she said:
“China is very close to us; we cannot be too antagonistic,” Sy-Coson, the SM Investments Corp. vice chairperson, told reporters last Wednesday. “Even though we know what is happening, I guess we have to do it through a more peaceful negotiation,” she added.
She practically said that what’s pushing down business confidence in the economy under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s rule is his administration’s belligerent stance toward China. “That’s why we are all cautiously optimistic because of the things that are happening beyond the businesses’ control, ” she said.
Sy-Coson seems to have knocked a bit of a screw in Marcos’s stubborn mind. The other day he told reporters in Japan: “I’m afraid we’ll have to be able to say that tensions have increased rather than diminished for the past months or the past years, and that’s why we have to — but we continue to counsel peace and continue communication between the different countries — everyone that is involved.”
Although still clinging to his delusion that the US and the West will be coming to our assistance in dealing with China — the Chinese have repeatedly said that a bilateral approach is non-negotiable — at least Marcos has admitted that “the South China Sea situation is the most complex geopolitical challenge that the world faces.”
That’s a major change in his simplistic, US-made propaganda line, started by former president Benigno Aquino 3rd’s “What is ours is ours” mantra. But it’s not really a “complex challenge that the world faces.” The US has merely complicated the issue with its “Pivot to Asia” machinations to use the dispute as a tool to drive a wedge between China and the other claimants, mainly the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. Only the Philippines, first under Aquino and under Marcos, have been fooled by the US strategy. In the US view, the world is too small to accommodate two superpowers, and after the dismantling of the USSR, it is the People’s Republic of China that needs to be humbled, to bow before the sole world hegemon.
Hundreds of years
But it doesn’t really take a Sy-Coson, who has a tycoon’s broad view of the region, to come to the conclusion that the administration’s belligerent stance and action makes no sense at all, whichever angle you look at it. The territorial disputes over the Spratly Islands have been going on for hundreds of years that even China’s revered leader Deng Xiaoping, as long ago as the 1970s, told claimants: “It is not an urgent issue and can wait. The future generations might have more wisdom to resolve the issue.”
By contrast, our government — apparently led by the nose by its generals and admirals, hungry most probably for bigger gasoline allocations for their vessels and study tours in the US — is making it an issue to the treasonous extent of endangering our economy.
Even if our vessels provoke the Chinese by sailing through Ayungin Shoal every day, the issue of control of that shoal had been settled 24 years ago, as I explained in my Wednesday column, in 1979 when President Fidel Ramos ordered a Navy ship attempting to approach Mischief reef to stand down and withdraw from the area as fast as it could.
Even an anti-China analyst Gregory Poling, concluded in his book “On Dangerous Ground: America’s Century in the South China Sea”: “The most likely endgame in the Spratlys is recognition of the current status quo. Southwest Cay is the only island to ever change hands between two of the modern claimants. In all other cases, the one who got there first (except Japan and France, which publicly ceded or quietly abandoned their claims, respectively) is still in control. Scarborough is best left unoccupied, as it has always been, with a cooperative management scheme for traditional fishing.”
Why make the dispute an irritant to our relations with the world’s biggest economic powerhouse, China, especially if there is no way now to claim “what is ours” (such as Ayungin Shoal), except through the military might of the US, in which case however we, and the world, and all the islands, rocks and reefs in the Spratlys will be consumed in nuclear fire.
One reason why many Filipinos have been brainwashed into a state of anti-Chinese paranoia is that self-styled little brown American “maritime experts” have been spreading gross misinformation. For instance, Jay Batongbacal — I cannot fathom why the UP allows such a biased academic in its halls — claimed in an interview that one possible move for government is “to cancel Chinese investments and contracts in the country, such as the joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea.”
Doesn’t he know that Chinese investments into the Philippines have already steeply fallen as a result of the government’s belligerent stance, to $12.2 million in the first nine months of the year, down from the $14.8 million last year? In sharp contrast, Vietnam — which also has territorial disputes with China but isn’t quarrelsome like us — has received $2.9 billion.
“Cancel Chinese investments here, such as the joint oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea,” Batongbacal says. Doesn’t he know that the mighty triad of Manuel Pangilinan (aka Indonesian Salim) and the late Roberto Ongpin has been lobbying government intensely for their Reed Bank exploration project to proceed, with China’s support?
Batongbacal said the government “should also close down all Philippine offshore gaming operators.” Doesn’t he know that China has been pressuring our government — unsuccessfully — to clamp down on POGOs, as these are illegal in their country and the source of wealth for organized crime there? But POGOs’ shadowy Filipino partners seem to have strong political and police connections so that after one is closed, they simply set up another one with a different name, even with different supposed owners.
I couldn’t believe a UP academic advocated that we end our trading relations with China. “We are the ones who are at a disadvantage because they take raw materials from us, such as nickel, and our exports, such as semiconductors and other electrical components. Maybe we should stop trading these natural resources with China and look for other countries where we can export them,” he said.
He dismissed the negative implications since the Philippines purchases consumer goods from China. “But we can always look for other sources. We only need some adjustments, naturally,” he pointed out. “We only need to make some sacrifices for our convenience. We have to learn to endure. If that is the way we can show them that we will stand up for our rights, then so be it,” Batongbacal added.
This guy is so ignorant. The reality is that in 2022, the total trade volume between China and the Philippines was $41 billion, making it the Philippines’ largest trading partner.
The Philippines imported $29 billion from China, accounting for 20 percent of total imports but only 2 percent of the superpower’s imports from the world. China is now the Philippines’ largest source of imports. The Philippines exported $11 billion to China in the same year, or 14 percent of our total exports but only 3 percent of Chinese exports to the entire world.
To simplify what these figures mean, the Philippines would plunge into an economic catastrophe if 20 percent of its imports (which is from China) abruptly ended, say, if the Philippines, as the senators practically want, stopped all relations with the superpower. Accounting for only 2 percent of its exports, the Chinese would hardly miss Philippine products and would most probably source these from Vietnam, even at discounted prices. The same degree of catastrophe would hit if China suddenly stopped its exports — mainly iron and steel, plastic products, refined petroleum products, fruits, and processed meat — even as their exporters would simply turn to other markets in Southeast Asia.
If Batongbacal is too lazy to read economic reports on our ties with China, he can just go to any supermarket or Divisoria, and he will find out that probably 70 percent of consumer commodities — the cheap ones the masses buy — are made in China. Check out the label of toothpaste Colgate and other similar hygienic products, Mr. Batongbacal, and you’ll be surprised these are manufactured in China.
No worries over such economic catastrophe, Batongbacal says: “We only need to make some sacrifices for our convenience.” Empty grocery shelves won’t be a minor inconvenience.
Why do media even listen to the views of such so uninformed a person?
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