The makings of a disaster

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

IMAGINE having a neighbor so unstable, so unpredictable that the whole community has to submit to every whim and qualm just to keep the peace. I’m sure everyone has to deal with such a personality in their barangay, seeing as though people retain a sense of justice and dignity that a few others lack. Come to think of it, in every community (and this is coming from a narrow middle-class perspective), there’s always that one person who is the sole cause of all problems in the neighborhood.

On a much larger scale, the convoluted world of international relations also has its fair share of rotten apples. South America has Venezuela. Europe has Russia. And of course, Asia has that large swath of territory stretching from the borders of India to the Pacific. The Peoples’ Republic of China is one country we have had the misfortune of being neighbors with. As recent events show, the communist state has put the entire Southeast Asian community on edge with its continued military presence throughout the nine-dash line, a grotesque illustration of its hegemonic ambitions.

And true to its nature, the country stands by its belief that it has full command of one of the world’s most important waterways despite conflicting claims by Southeast Asian nations who single out China for its low-key bullying. Of course, we can cite the construction of artificial islands for obvious military reasons and the numerous instances of blatant conflict its presence invites as reasons why it’s so difficult to deal with this boogeyman.

But then again, our government insists that there’s no reason to fear the intentions of an economic giant, so long as it funnels cash into the countries it seeks to influence. In a way, we shouldn’t always throw suspicions at a neighbor who gives out mangoes or donates to the annual community fiesta.

China has pledged to increase its investments in the Philippines, mostly for developing infrastructure and the manufacturing sector. By the end of 2018, the communist state has P50.7 billion of its total investment pledges approved, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority. Imports have also risen to at least $2 billion in 2019 as reported by the Department of Trade and Industry. This amount is the largest any foreign country has ever mustered, and it’s somewhat of a good thing. We’re biting a huge chunk off of Beijing’s “generosity” in return for huge benefits in the near future.

In passing, it makes sense for the National Intelligence Coordination Agency chief Alex Paul Monteagudo to blatantly describe President Duterte’s softening up to China as “realist.” We simply cannot win in both military and economic fronts if our territorial disputes with China were to erupt into an actual shooting war. This is also the same mindset that administration supporters have adopted. With Duterte at the helm, they could at least have the confidence that this act of warming up is just part of a grandmaster chess player’s elaborate strategy.

The effectiveness of this strategy, however, has yet to manifest. It’s easy to rally behind someone who sees the practical side of things, but it’s hard to ascertain the kind of future we are actually building if we continue to put on this subservient facade. We should begin to wonder at this point if we’re really trying to find a way out of this situation or digging a deeper hole for ourselves.

With a neighbor like China, you’re bound to make compromises. The past administrations have done so, but none have been successful in going up against a country that’s intent on gobbling as many resources and investment opportunities as it can in its own bid for world domination. And while pro-Duterte groups continue to champion the President’s unsolicited reputation as a “master strategist,” the administration’s current policy towards China may very well be a disaster in the making.

For all we know, this is the kind of attitude that results in bad decisions and convinces us that it’s totally okay to give up our self-respect just so we could have overpriced infrastructure and high-risk loans as payoffs.