The Philippines on Thursday announced a proposal to work with China on resource exploration and extraction in the contested South China Sea.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appears to have drunk the Kool-Aid, describing the proposal as akin to “co-ownership” of contested areas. Most foreign-relations arrangements involve making concessions, but to believe that China would concede to sharing sovereignty of what it sees as its own territory is nothing short of delusional.
China’s foreign-relations strategy is to extend its political influence through economic incentives made to political and economic world leaders. It has always done this domestically by providing development opportunities and access to its expansive market. Internationally, it has been doing this through assistance with infrastructure development.
Helping the Philippines with its energy needs will translate into China driving a rift between the Philippines and its ally the US, which, in turn, will translate into US naval ships being denied access to ports in the Philippines. This would be helpful to China in its long-term strategy of pushing the US out of the South China Sea, where the US has said it would continue to conduct freedom-of-navigation exercises.
Duterte has said the arrangement is preferable to the “massacre” of Philippine troops in a war against China, but it also equates to the neutering of the Philippines’ own territorial claims in the area, and more or less enslaves the nation politically for short-term economic gain. China will dictate the terms of all resource extraction in the area and not hesitate to drive the Philippines out once it has achieved its aims.
China’s soft power strategy has been playing out similarly in cross-strait relations where Beijing has been providing economic incentives to underemployed and low-paid Taiwanese graduates and businesspeople in an attempt to influence opinion regarding Taiwan’s sovereignty.
China’s Taiwan Affairs Office on Wednesday announced 31 incentives and economic benefits for Taiwanese businesses, civic groups, cultural workers and artists in China, which would allow Taiwanese to enjoy “national treatment” in China.
Former vice president Annette Lu (呂秀蓮) said the incentives were “a soft unification strategy more powerful than military means.”
This is a soft power strategy that China is unleashing on an international scale.
In January, Delta Airlines was made to apologize for listing Taiwan and Tibet as countries, and last month Mercedes-Benz issued an apology over a complaint from the Chinese government concerning its use of a quote from the Dalai Lama in a company-issued Instagram post, as Beijing views the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet as a dangerous separatist.
Even Apple, whose famous 1984 TV ad presented its computing platform as the alternative to an Orwellian dystopia, has bowed to China’s outrageous demands, providing the Chinese government with access to Chinese users’ iCloud storage accounts.
In an opinion piece published on Wednesday on the Washington Post Web site, writer Charles Lane said the US’ initial support for China was meant not only as a bulwark against Russia, but was also due to a US belief that Beijing would eventually adopt a free-market system and offer free elections.
US businesses at the time rode this wave of optimism, benefiting from the cheap labor that China provided, only to arrive at a backlash over job losses to China and the subsequent election of US President Donald Trump, Lane said.
Surviving the rise of China will depend on political and economic leaders breaking the cycle of overlooking long-term harm in favor of short-term gains.
China needs international trade as much as the world needs China, and doing business with China should not necessitate making political or human rights concessions.
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