The Philippines Begins to Reorient

Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

The Philippines Begins to Reorient

The Philippines demonstrates that it “can no longer ignore China” even if kowtowing to Beijing distances it from the U.S.

Human rights groups slammed the Philippines for joining the China-led boycott against the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony last Friday which honored an imprisoned Chinese dissident. Since the move followed sharply on the heels of a major military deal between China and the Philippines, Manila’s decision to kowtow to China takes on great significance.

China’s beef was over the Nobel Committee’s decision to award this year’s peace prize to Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese professor and activist who waged a 20-year campaign to bring what the committee called “fundamental human rights” to China. Beijing, which sees Liu’s work as a challenge to the Communist Party’s self-appointed right to rule the nation, imprisoned him as a dissident in December 2009, and lashed out at the Nobel Committee, and the West in general, calling the decision to give the prize to Liu “an anti-China farce.” In the lead-up to the December 10 ceremony, Beijing announced that any nation that sent a representative to the event would face “consequences.”

Most of the 17 other nations that heeded China’s calls to boycott the ceremony were the usual regimes like Iran, Venezuela, Pakistan, Morocco, Afghanistan and Sudan which share in China’s disdain for Western human rights pressure.

But the Philippines is supposed to be a champion of democracy and an ally of the West. The Manila Times blasted President Benigno Aquino iii, saying he made a “painful sacrifice” of the Philippines’ human rights image in order to please Beijing for security and economic reasons.

“By this act, which pleases the Chinese Embassy … the Aquino administration has entered the elite stratum of very special friends of (China) of which the foremost are North Korea and Burma (Myanmar),” the Filipino daily said.

But not all Filipinos are upset with the Aquino administration’s decision.

On Monday, the Philippines Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile defended President Aquino’s decision to boycott the ceremony, saying the Philippines “can no longer ignore China.”

“Anybody who ignores China would have to reexamine his head,” Enrile said.

For his part, Aquino stressed that the Philippine government is still committed to human rights, and said the move was a plea to Beijing for clemency for five Filipinos sentenced to death for drug offenses in China.

On December 7, only three days before the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, Gen. Ricardo David Jr., the chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (afp), traveled to Beijing for a five-day visit with Chinese military officials. The high-level meetings culminated in the signing of a military logistics deal between Manila and Beijing.

Although the details of the agreement haven’t been divulged, an afp spokesman said it was a step in the direction of bolstering military ties between Beijing and Manila. The afp is too weak to control either internal threats in the Philippines or external security challenges involving the nation’s many sea-lanes and islands. Historically, Manila has depended on the United States for the military assistance it needs in these areas, but the U.S.-Philippines military relationship is cooling as Washington becomes distracted by pressures in the Middle East and elsewhere.

So Beijing sees the void as a chance to gain a foothold in the Philippines and expand its sphere of influence in Southeast Asia, while simultaneously elbowing the U.S. out.

Manila is beginning to read the writing on the wall and is positioning the Philippines for the inevitable demise of U.S. foreign policy in Asia. The Philippines is realizing, as Enrile said, that it can no longer ignore China.

As America’s influence in the Philippines and all of Asia wanes, China’s soft-power diplomacy and hard-power buildup will fill the void and steadily solidify Asian nations into a global power. In the longer term, Asia’s unification points to the approach of the most hope-filled event in history. To understand more about this sure hope, read Russia and China in Prophecy.