The Philippines is in trouble. It doesn’t take a genius to know that China’s aggressive moves in the cluster of islands known to the Philippines as Pag-asa (hope) on the South China Sea, or as the Philippines would say, West Philippine Sea, has deprived the Philippines of actual use over the territory. Despite a more China-friendly approach to foreign policy, China has run roughshod over the Philippines…who now seems to act a lot like China’s bitch. Harsh?
Some say the problem for the Philippines started when, like a bull in a china shop, it kicked out the Americans who were holed up in Subic and Clark bases. From these bases, the US would project its power and might over the surrounding waters including, of course, the South China Sea. China back in the 80s and 90s did not have the navy to or even the economic means to match the US in its neo-colonialist best.
In a bit of nationalistic fervor, the Philippine Senate rejected the US bases agreement in 1991. The agreement would have extended the US presence in Subic Navy Base for another ten years even as it surrendered Clark Air Base in 1992. But, like a bull in a china shop, there was no Plan B, and the china got its revenge. Without the US so close, and the Philippines weakened by, well being the Philippines (fine, Marcos’ failed cronyism), China grew a couple and moved forward.
Then globalization came and everyone took advantage of China’s dirt cheap labor, which made the Chinese very rich indeed. The Chinese, being the astute Chinese that they were, forced all the foreign companies coming to their shores to play by their rules, even forcing technology transfers these companies wouldn’t have considered had it somewhere else to go. Chinese labor was that cheap companies were willing to lose a little — that turned out a lot — to gain a lot. Even if companies had to ship goods from across the Pacific, it was still cheaper than doing it from the US. All that money and technology the Chinese used for their own ends. They became a superpower.
Which brings us back to those islands in the South China Sea. China, with all that money, is willing to lend some to the Philippines to build its infrastructure. Its loan terms are less attractive than say Japan’s but that doesn’t seem to kill the deal because it seems “the Philippines needs friends.” What for exactly is not certain. Maybe a balance against post-neo-colonialist US but somehow it’s not working out too well for the Philippines. The Philippines managed to win a major score at an international tribunal that declared China’s claims over the South China Sea absolute hogwash and yet the Philippines is still down. It’s neighbors, Indonesia and Vietnam, actually manage to hold China at bay. The difference lies in the power to enforce its will. Both Indonesia and Vietnam has a navy capable of defending its interests. Not so the Philippines, and the most laughable thing about its situation is that China is now offering to fund its naval buildup. The country that is taking the most from the Philippines, is going to fund its navy! How terribly effed up is that? I mean this does not even include the invasion of Chinese workers and the chaos their presence is causing in the housing sector. China is dominating the Philippines and the best the latter can do is wag its finger and say “Bad China! Bad China!” But all the while its tail is wagging.
Oh Philippines, my Philippines.