China invading the Philippines? That’s old
news. A long, long time ago, even before the Europeans reached our shores, the
Chinese were already making fortunes from barter trade with the natives.
These “chinky-eyed” invaders—no need to
disclose anything: I am chinky-eyed too—adapted to places wherever their
journeys brought them. They assumed local-sounding names, especially for their
given names; some either by buying them (some got theirs from cemeteries) or by
contraction of words (eg, Cojuangco from co wang co, or Limlingan from lim ling
They are so good in business that by 1990, according
to a doctoral thesis by Victor Limlingan, former professor of the Asian
Institute of Management, 8 of the 10 richest families in the Philippines,
Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia consisted of either
Chinese nationals or locals of Chinese descent.
Studies show that the most affluent 10
percent of the population controls 90 percent of a country’s wealth, whether
that country is rich or poor. Indeed, that ratio is also true for the whole
Money begets money, especially when
political power boosts the money-making process. In the Philippines, it is not
hard to imagine how economic power had shaped politics and public policy, and
how politics had facilitated the rich to become richer. There is a myriad of means
by which things get done, either legally or fraudulently, such as funding the
candidacy of politicians and collecting dividends later (always a sound investment,
especially when pockets are deep enough to support all contenders), allotting
budgets for public expenditures that support vested interests (such as infra
that multiplies values of real estate or stock investments), or by influencing
a judicial process that spares big-time tax evaders or plunderers from
The clout of Chinese money—both from the
State and from individuals who dominate local business—makes a country with
corrupt politicians like the Philippines vulnerable to invasion even without
use of military force. As I stated at the outset, however, the entire process of
conquest took centuries to gain some traction. If China was a python and the
Philippines its prey, strangulation is slow but sure. But when the subject is
submissive, powerful paws and jaws are all the predator needs. No need for
pretentious display of diplomacy. This is the way of the komodo dragon: getting
what one desires by force of stealth and intimidation.
There are many ways of skinning a cat. That
old saying did not originate from China, but the relation is apt, not only
because the Chinese are known to have a big appetite for exotic foods, but also
because of the variety of ways by which its government executes hegemony—from designs
of retaking territories like Hongkong and Taiwan, to claiming of almost the
entire West Philippine Sea. Other countries like Djibouti, Tajikistan, Sri
Lanka and Angola risked having pawned themselves to China for their debt.
China’s imperialist agenda is supported by a
long-term vision and a well-grounded strategy. By harnessing economic forces
and political power within its sphere of influence, notably among countries
within South East Asia, it brings back Mao Zedong’s winning formula: seizing
central control from the peripheries.
The Chinese government conducts itself with
deliberate patience, as in the case of Hongkong and Taiwan. It waits for the
right time and, like the dragon, pounces on its prey only when conditions for
the ambush have been established, as in the case of the Philippines.
When the American Senate ratified the
Treaty of Paris in 1901, pro-annexation senators argued for keeping the Philippines
as US colony so that American companies can tap the huge China market, among
other self-serving considerations. The Philippine government started playing
the China card during the Marcos era when support for Martial Law by Washington
was at risk. The saga of the country’s relations with China continued with an
assortment of milestones: such as when the Arroyo government courted
controversies when its deals with Chinese firms went through public scrutiny; and
the current Duterte administration continues to draw flak for its inability to
assert sovereign rights over key areas in West Philippine Sea in accordance
with international law and as ruled by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at
The Hague, Netherlands, in 2016.
Unlike Spain, Japan and the United States
that colonized the Philippines by employing force, China succeeded in getting
through the middle of that process by employing money and guile. Its
imperialist design is supported by a coherent set of well-grounded ideas; its
template is by no means an exact copy of war as the only way of advancing
imperialism. This means China’s agenda can be defeated by better ideas.
Coming up next: Stopping the Dragon.