IT would be difficult to find in history a more colossal, unnecessary boo-boo than President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. congratulating, as his X post put it, “President-elect Lai Ching-te on his election as Taiwan’s next president.”
That has rankled China so much that a Chinese Embassy official remarked: “This will have consequences.” He didn’t elaborate, but sources in the diplomatic community agreed that a drastic response from China can be expected.
This is because Marcos’ statement, whether he was aware of it or not, in effect violated the so-called One-China policy that the People’s Republic of China has managed since the 1970s to get almost all countries of the world, including the Philippines, to adhere to.
Among the world’s 180 heads of state, it was only Marcos who issued such a statement. While the United States, the United Kingdom, Singapore and a handful of countries did congratulate Lai, it was done only at the level of their foreign ministries’ heads or press statements. Even the US, China’s archrival and Taiwan’s defender, only had Secretary of State Antony Blinken congratulating Lai.
The One-China policy, which every country seeking to have diplomatic relations with China had to adopt, involves recognition of the People’s Republic of China as the “sole legal government of China.” Under this policy, the “Republic of China” on Taiwan island, to which the Kuomintang government had fled in 1949 after its defeat in the Chinese civil war, is viewed as illegal, i.e., nonexistent as a state. Under this policy, Taiwan is to be viewed as an integral part of China, although Beijing has been constrained, however, from taking it by force because of the US threat to defend it. The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 1971 revoked the Republic of China’s (Taiwan) membership after UNGA members voted in a resolution to recognize the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate representative of China.
The Chinese ambassador to Manila, Huang Xilian, emphasized in a speech he delivered the other night: “The Taiwan question is China’s internal affairs and lies at the core of China’s core interests. The One-China principle is the political premise on which China establishes and develops diplomatic relations with the Philippines.”
Marcos’ congratulations, therefore, in effect recognized Taiwan as an independent nation electing its new president.
The Foreign Affairs department tried to backpedal Marcos’ statement through its spokesman, claiming that the Philippines was committed to the “One-China policy, and that it was his way of thanking Taiwan for hosting our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and holding a successful democratic process.”
That statement though was a boo-boo coming after a boo-boo. Is the Foreign Affairs department defending Marcos’ statement, in effect recognizing the “Republic of China” in gratitude for hosting OFWs? The spokesman’s statement had even a tone of fear to it: “The joint communiqué [that established the country’s One-China policy] states that ‘the two governments agree to settle all disputes by peaceful means… without resorting to the use of threat or force.'” Was she saying that Marcos was standing by his statement, and China can’t do anything else but to settle this new dispute by peaceful means?
Marcos went no further on the issue which, however, could be interpreted that he is sticking to it, even if it is a dent on the country’s adherence to the “One-China policy,” and that he would be making similar statements in the future. Indeed, his controversial post hasn’t been taken down.
Marcos’ gaffe bolsters the urgent need for him to fire Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo firstly as he doesn’t trust his capability, and therefore didn’t see the need to consult with him before his boo-boo congratulating Lai.
On the other hand, Manalo — and actually also the top Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officials — appear to have been too laid back over the pressing China controversy. A more competent DFA head, considering that our relations with China have been a burning, urgent issue under the Marcos administration, would have anticipated that the President could make such a mistake congratulating Lai, and warned him not to.
Why did Marcos make such a blunder?
One source claimed that it was Resident Representative Silvestre Hernando Bello 3rd of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) in Taiwan who advised Marcos to congratulate Lai.
Bello has been in Manila since last week for the ceremonial turnover of Taiwan’s donation of 1,000 metric tons of rice to the Philippines for disaster relief. Bello is a close friend of Marcos, the reason he was appointed to head the MECO, the country’s unofficial embassy in Taipei, set up to put up the pretense of compliance with the One-China policy.
A corollary answer to that question is that Marcos has demonstrated a proclivity for making decisions entirely by himself — as in the case of occupying the agriculture secretary post for 15 months and appointing a super-secretary to oversee his economic managers — without consulting officials who would be more knowledgeable and more experienced on the issue confronting him. Unfortunately, there is the social media platform, X (the former Twitter), that tempts one to make instant decisions that turn out to be blunders and broadcast it to the world.
As if the situation weren’t bad enough, the publicity-seeking defense secretary, Gilberto Teodoro Jr., decided to join the fray. Seemingly along the line of his strategy for getting more political visibility — which is to be vehemently anti-China — Teodoro issued a statement accusing the Chinese foreign affairs ministry spokesman, Mao Ning, of resorting to “low- and gutter-level talk.” He was referring to Mao’s statement telling Marcos to “read more books to properly [know] the ins and outs of the Taiwan issue.” Her statement may indeed have been insulting, but for Teodoro to label it as “gutter-level talk” merely raised the temperature of the controversy that Marcos started.
Teodoro doesn’t have any business criticizing officials of another nation. What he did was to send the message that Marcos’ X statement wasn’t accidental but intentional — perhaps an American trial balloon to find out what Beijing’s reaction will be to an Asian country’s challenge to its One-China policy. That would be important when China moves to forcibly take over Taiwan.
Seriously, have we become the US’ most servile vassal that our President is at the forefront of an American strategy, and alone, to chip away at the One-China policy?
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