Very few Filipinos can claim to know how Beijing ticks
My column this week includes an anecdote from my time in government. Back in 2016, in Enter the dragon, I’d recounted some observations about Manila and Beijing. What few realize is how ignorant we are, about the ways of China and its officials -and yet some officials want to remove those in a position to know.
This week’s The Long View
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:40 AM August 09, 2023
When a photo was released of former president Rodrigo Duterte, cane in hand, visiting President Marcos, one caption in a social media chat naughtily read, “The Ambassador of China presents his credentials to the President of the Philippines.”
What the President has done is to try to smooth over the provocation that was the unannounced Beijing visit of Duterte (and friends: he was accompanied by officials of the media outfit owned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s wanted preacher-media-mogul, Apollo Quiboloy, which tells you all you need to know about what the visit represented: a political lifeline). But as his haggard demeanor reveals, the President is hard-pressed to smooth over both Beijing’s behavior and that of his domestic critics.
A couple of days ago Beijing followed up its water cannonading with a verbal blast accusing the Philippines of leaving a previous pledge to remove the BRP Sierra Madre (claimed by some as a promise supposedly made by former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo before a state visit by Hu Jintao).
We have a wealth of contacts and institutional memory when dealing with the Middle East or the West, but this simply isn’t the case for much of Asia.
As he prepared to embark on a state visit to China, the late former president Benigno S. Aquino III asked to meet the DFA’s resident expert on China. The best that could be produced was a mild-mannered young diplomat who headed the China desk. After being briefed, Aquino asked us if there might be people with extensive knowledge of the politburo who could be consulted as resource persons. We suggested two longtime Beijing residents who were Filipino journalists: the late Chito Sta. Romana and Jaime FlorCruz. Edwin Lacierda was tasked to talk to Sta. Romana and I was instructed to get in touch with FlorCruz. Both gladly, and thoroughly, not to mention, discreetly, answered Aquino’s questions.
At the start of Duterte’s term, I was given the opportunity to meet and have a frank discussion with Sta. Romana and was convinced his great experience was truly at the service of the country. That included a sober appreciation on his part that much of the real diplomacy was being conducted through informal channels, bypassing him and, thus, without the benefit of his input, much less advice.
The PH Economy and China
A 2017 article by Bob Shead gives a good overview from the Aquino to the Duterte administrations: The Philippines’ Economic and Political Relations With China. The Duterte era can be glimpsed through 2018’s The Philippines Foreign Direct Investment Boom: Comparing China with the Rest.
An interesting paper is How Duterte Strong-Armed Chinese Dam-Builders But Weakened Philippine Institutions.
For recent figures see Philippines Foreign Direct Investment. See also 2023 Foreign Investment Opportunities in The Philippines.
Frank Wisner, a former US ambassador, recently gave a keynote speech: The US, China, the Philippines and the Emerging Asian Security Order.
The State of the Nation Redux
Heneral Lunacy, who is a retired investment banker, gives an interesting counterpoint to the recent SONA.