UNDERSTANDING CHINA AND ITS INTEREST IN SOUTHEAST ASIA by Professor Roland G. Simbulan University of the Philippines and Vice Chair, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPeg) (Speech as guest speaker before the National Command Conference of the Philippine Marine Corps on the occasion of its 36th anniversary, Philippine Marine Headquarters Conference Hall, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig, MetroManila. November 11, 2013) Introduction I wish to thank your Commandant, Major General Romeo Tanalgo for inviting me to speak at your Command Conference on the occasion of the 36th Anniversary of the Philippine Marine Corps. In many ways, I have some affinity with the military establishment. I am the son of a PMAer, an "Army Brat" as the PMA cadet lingo would call me. My father, Dante, is a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, Class of 1952 and my early years in life were spent in the PMA Officers Quarters in Camp Allen, Baguio City. My father told me that he had as his underclassmen at PMA several Commandants of the Philippine Marines: General Rodolfo Punsalang, PMA Class 1954 and Commodore Rudiardo Brown, PMA Class 1955, who were his "Plebes". After his stint in the Army as Commander of the PAMBUL Rangers in the mid-50s, he was assigned to PMA as a member of the Corps of Professors and had as his student another former Commandant of the Philippine Marines and later Chief of Staff of the AFP, Gen. Rodolfo Biazon, a member of PMA Class 1961. And if I remember right, he also told me that he had as his student at PMA, now Secretary of National Defense Voltaire Gazmin, a member of PMA Class 1968. I am not, therefore, a complete stranger to the Philippine military. It is with great pleasure that I come to share my observations, insights and analyses on the topic, "Understanding China and its Interest in Southeast Asia." In this way, we can be well informed, to make decisions for our common goal of fighting for what is best for our country. This topic which is related to the question of self-determination, independence and the defense of our national sovereignty is given more relevance by the fact that later this month, on Nov. 30, 2013, we will be commemorating the 150 birthday of Andres Bonifacio, who perhaps can be considered to be one of the founders of the the original Army of the Filipino People--the Katipunan -- which successfully led the first national revolution in Asia that ended and defeated almost 370 years of European (Spanish) in our country. Andres Bonifacio today is not just a symbol for nationalism and national sovereignty; he is also a symbol of the common people's struggle against elite hegemony. I have visited China many times, not as a tourist, but as part of official delegations of the University of the Philippines. I have also been invited there to speak and to lecture, and in the process, I have interacted with their scholars, academics, leading "think tanks", government officials and even with some leaders of the Communist Party of China. And with the aid of interpreters, I have also talked to common people in China - professionals, businessmen, farmers, workers, teachers and students. Today, I will try to share with you my observations and insights of my visits and interactions in China. I would like to begin by saying that, even with our territorial and maritime disputes with China, we should view and handle bilateral relations with China from a historical and with a strategic view and vision. We should not only know ABOUT China. We should learn FROM China, especially from the writings of its best strategists and tacticians like Sun Tzu, and Mao Zedong. We should learn from this country - a country with five centuries of experience in statecraft of governing a huge country with diverse ethnic nationalities-- and on how Modern China is able to feed its 1.3 billion people, or how it has embarked, according to the United Nations and even the World Bank, into one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the 20th century. Like China, we are an Asian country, which are both rich in natural resources. But compared to China we are just a small country, and an archipelagic country endowed with rich resources, being the object of big powers fighting each other in order to gain control of our land and its natural wealth. We have been under the Spanish empire as a colony for almost four centuries. The Dutch, and the British wanted to oust the Spaniards and incorporate us in their own empires. Then came the Americans who offered to help our Revolutionary fathers in freeing us from the Spanish yoke, only to betray the proferred "friendship", fought our Revolutionary Army for Independence, and annexed us to the emerging American Empire. General Gregorio del Pilar, in whose honor Fort del Pilar, home of the Philippine Military Academy in Baguio City was named, fought and died fighting the new American colonialists, perhaps the first U.S. Visiting Forces in this part of the world. The first U.S. "visiting forces" - 126,000 U.S. troops according to American historians-- invaded and defeated our Army of the First Republic of the Philippines led by General Emilio Aguinaldo. Today, we are still the "bone of contention" of Big Powers, by the United States, by Japan including China, an emerging world power challenging U.S. hegemony in this part of the world. Knowing ABOUT China To understand China's thinking and behavior today, we must understand China's history: Before and during the early part of the 20th century China herself was a victim of western imperial powers, and like a watermelon, was divided by Western European powers, later even by the U.S. and Japan. It was the height of national humiliation for an old civilization like China to be divided like a watermelon. All these threats came from the sea, in its southern and eastern coasts. In 1948, the Chinese successfully liberated themselves from the control and domination of the West and have since embarked on a massive program of "modernization", utilizing the methods of Capitalism in competing with the West. In June 1975, we established diplomatic relations with China, a country which our media always described as Red China or Communist China. But China for a long time, has always been a country of interest to many outsiders of China. Many are fascinated about Ancient China because it gives us an insight into one of the oldest civilizations of the world - where gunpowder, silk and other technologies were invented - which came from our side of the world, the East, and not the West, which belies the Western myth that the origins of civilization came from the Western part of the world. Then there is Modern China, especially after its social revolution led by Mao Zedong in 1949 which restructured China, abolishing foreign control of its economy, initiating one of the most comprehensive agrarian reform programs in the world, and dismantling feudalism and the dynastic control of warlords which persisted in most of rural China. Learning FROM China Modern China fascinates many people from all over the world for two reasons: 1. How it has managed to practically eradicate poverty in the most populous country in the world, and and there are many anti-poverty programs that we can learn from this rich neighbor with a population of 1.34 billion people today. There are important lessons we can learn from this country which used to be ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world to the 2nd largest economy of the world today. 2. How it has managed not only to develop its own indigenous technologies, but how it has strategized to absorb the state of the art technology of the West, or what we call "transfer of technology", through its special economic zones where it has invited multinational corporations from the 80s onwards. So effective is this transfer of technology to China's advantage that Westerners complain and call China "the pirate capital of the world." Modern China has become a global player and power, due to its fast-tracked modernization of its economy and rapid economic development. What are the indicators of this rapid economic development? First, China is now the 2nd largest economy next to the U.S., surpassing Japan in terms of GDP in current dollars (IMF data). Second, today China is unsurpassed in terms of consumption in iron ore, celfones, beer and copper, energy consumption and car sales. Third, China is now the largest global manufacturing country, "the factory of the world", the factory of the U.S. economy. Fourth, China is the largest trading country or or the world's biggest shopping center. It has become the biggest retail market in the world. Fifth, China has the largest foreign reserves in the world today, and has lent the U.S. almost US$1.4 trillion, while the European Union also owes it hundreds of billions of US dollars. Recently, Chinese leaders under Xi Jinping have spoken of "China's dream". The dream may have something to do with China's goal of totally eradicating poverty by 2020 (it officially admits that of its 1.3 billion population, 128 million are still poor, mostly in its western provinces). The Chinese "dream" includes the creation of a predominantly Chinese middle class for the majority of its people. China does not want to derail this goal by repeating the mistake of the former Soviet Union which engaged in a tit-for-tat arms race with the United States during the Cold War. The former Soviet Union over-extended itself, leading to vast resources spent on unproductive defense spending instead of the people's needs, and leading to the collapse of its economy and fragmentation of the former Soviet Union into 14 independent states. China wants to focus on on the development of its domestic affairs, but in their view, "they have the right to protect their national interests", and their government " will respond to challenges from the outside." The goal for the Chinese people is not far-fetched. In 1981, the absolute poor in China was estimated to be 84% of the population. In 2008, the absolute poor was estimated to be only 8%, according to IMF and World Bank estimates. For the past 20 years, with an average annual growth rate of 20%, the highest in the world, the World Bank has estimated that in this period more than a billion Chinese people have been liberated from poverty, and that no other country in the world has ever achieved this phenomenon for its people. Big Power Interest in Southeast Asia Today, there is the competition for the world's resources by the Big Powers to fuel capitalist development and growth: Mineral rsources, oil and gas in the Middle East, in Africa, in Latin America, and in Asia, have caused big power conflicts. China has spoken of several "core" interests. Taiwan, economic development, socialist system, sovereignty, etc., but I argue that the ultimate unspoken core interest from which all others flow is the survival of the Communist Party. The challenge then is how to engage the mind of the Chinese Communist Party, especially its leadership, to figure out how a given issue such as the South China Sea disputes which include other ASEAN countries, impacts its calculus of survival. In the world today, there are many potential threats to the Communist Party's survival, and to China's security which is the other name of it. But the biggest potential threat is the U.S., simply because it is still the predominant military and economic power in the world. For China, therefore, a strategy for the correct handling of relations with the U.S. is a life and death issue, and so far, they have done very well, thanks in part to the strategic momentum of the triangular model that Mao crafted with Nixon that has led to their current interdependence, but the relations will become more complicated as China rises. America's pivot to Asia is seen as containment, a form of encirclement as during the Cold War, a threat to China. There are many dimensions to the South China Sea issue, but again most important is to see it first of all through the security prism. China's leaders are aware of two painful lessons from their "century of humiliation" that started with the Opium War and lasted up to the Japanese invasion of China in the Second World War. One, China's weakness invited bullying. Two, China's biggest threats came from the seas. For the long future, there can only be more competition for resources and the question is whether it can be kept peaceful. We know that the great powers of the past achieved their aims through direct colonialism, wars of conquest, and inter-imperialist wars. China has propounded "peaceful development", or "peaceful rise", and "new type of great-power relationship"-to use their words- precisely because, subjectively, it wants to avoid the old pattern of great-power conflicts and wars. To this day, China's diplomacy has tended to avoid overseas military conflicts or military intervention in other countries, and engages mostly in economic competition, using its accumulated financial clout to successfully win its bids for mining concessions in Afghanistan, or oil contracts in Iraq, for example. China's leaders are certainly aware of the costly lessons of colonialism and wars, of which China itself is a victim. Hopefully, China can exercise more effective leadership so that its army of corporations and entrepreneurs expanding overseas will be guided by best practices(though there have been complaints in Africa as well as in the Philippines, as in the NBN-ZTE contract during Pres. Arroyo's administration). Overall, the entry of China into the global market for resources is good for the resources-owning countries. China's dependence on economic competition and not on military muscle is good for peaceful global competition. Whether other great-powers will allow China to rise peacefully or to control a greater share of the world's resources, is something China alone cannot answer. The laws of international politics exist, and China itself will continue to build its national defense to redress the military imbalance with other powers and protect its economic lifelines when the need arises. That China itself was long a victim of Western imperialism and never, even at the height of its power in the past, engaged in territorial conquest beyond its historical domain, seems to provide a basis for optimism, but we can never really tell, because any government or party can change its color. The lesson of the first socialist state, the Soviet Union, bears this out. China's Interest in the South China Sea The South China Sea has oil and other resources, which are certainly important, but even more important is that it is a strategic zone of defense for China. China's military planners will not lightly give it up. By and large, China is maintaining the status quo. They have the superior force to take over the disputed islets if they want to, while in the case of Scarborough Shoal, they probably believe we were the disruptive "revisionist" force with our first use of a military vessel to intimidate their fishermen. But they will maintain their sovereignty claims because they are important legal and political grounds for opposing the use of the sea lanes "within their jurisdiction" (within their Exclusive Economic Zone) for military threats against China. They support freedom of navigation but I think they want a say on military passage through their "claimed" seas --- the Hainan spy plane incident and subsequent skirmishes with U.S. Navy ships approaching sensitive Chinese areas need to be reviewed. China's strategy of handling disputes with the Philippines will be a function of its overall strategy of dealing with the United States. China is already suspicious that the disputes with the Philippines have heated up simultaneous with the U.S. pivot in Asia. But in handling the Philippines, China will strike a balance between not unnecessarily provoking the U.S. , but also trying to send a firm message to the U.S.. This reminds me of the example of Netherland's sale of a submarine to Taiwan, which led China to severing of diplomatic relations with the Netherlands --I think relations were downgraded because of this. But a more massive U.S. arms sale to Taiwan did not provoke a similar retaliation. The point here is that China is capable of "teaching a lesson" to a lesser power as a way of transmitting their message to the master, the U.S., without provoking the U.S., that it might be in our interest to avoid being in a position of such a "lesser power." Engaging China on our Territorial and Maritime Disputes The Chinese claim in Southeast Asia -- the 9 dash line, Spratleys, Baja de Masinloc, Ayungin, etc. are all manifestations that China is now following the ways of Global Capitalism. Some say it is establishing its own hegemonic "sphere of influence" especially among its immediate neighbors in Southeast Asia. Provocation breeds counter provocation. There is the U.S. Asia Pivot, and Japan is also reacting because its major trade routes for its vital imports such as oil and gas are on the Sea Lanes in the South China Sea. China is flexing its muscles through aggressive behaviour in the South East Asian waters and in the Pacific, which may be a prelude to future confrontation and conflicts. The South China Sea being, above all, a security issue, China will react to Philippine actuations according to whether they threaten or enhance its security. Based on pronouncements from our government ( and for lack of any other channel for communication or bilateral negotiation), China has increasing perception that the Philippines is actively aligning with the U.S. and Japan to confront China militarily. Conceptually, how then can we expect the Chinese to give consideration to our just demands and to our national interests and agree to a territorial compromise, if by doing so they only harm themselves. This comes with their perception that we will allow U.S. and Japanese warships to secure and guard these contested islands for us. Foreign Relations and our National Interest Now, where should we stand in these big-power quarrels? We must, in accordance to our 1987 Constitution, defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity from all big powers seeking hegemony and control over the West Philippine Sea (U.S. , China and Japan). We have the following options: 1. Being a junior partner/follower of one of the competing powers will make our country a possible target of attack in a future conflict; 2. We can embark on an independent, patriotic posture. This means not allowing ourselves to be employed or used as a pawn in this big power struggle for resources in the region. This means asserting and resisting actual violations of Philippine sovereignty and territorial integrity committed by Chinese and U.S. forces. This includes punishing those who commit environmental destruction of the Philippine waters and our seabed resources, pursuing crimes committed by U.S. soldiers in our territory, etc.. Our country is weak, but we also have strong points. China is strong but they also have their weak points. Applying Sun Tzu's and Mao Zedong's strategy, we must find the Chinese vulnerability and leveraging our strong points to protect our national interests --- as distinct from the national interests of the other Big Powers --- should be the main pre-occuption of our national strategy. Ultimately, the greatest Chinese vulnerability is the Communist Party of China's need for security and survival, in the face o the U.S. and Japan counter-balancing against China's rise. Our strongest point is the God-given gift that the Philippines is strategically located in a neighborhood that is decisively important for China's defense zone. How then, should we take advantage and not squander our strong point? I argue that the best answer is an INDEPENDENT FOREIGN POLICY, a policy that swears friendship to all and enmity to none, a policy that gives primacy to our national interests independent of the conflict between Big Powers, a policy that above all, refocuses our effort on the most urgent issue, which is accelerated economic growth, on which all other sources of national strength depend. Our Southeast Asian neighbors -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, etc., though some of them also have territorial and maritime disputes with China, are focusing on economic growth and have good experience in this regard. But we can do better. Conceptually, therefore, we should aim to bring about a situation where China's leaders - and public - will realize that reaching a territorial compromise with the Philippines will enhance, not threaten, their security. This is easier said than done, but it can be done, over time. The China-Russia border, the longest land border in the world, was a much more explosive problem, but it was solved. Even in its moment of extreme weakness vis a vis the Soviet Union then, China did not cave in on the territorial disputes, but when the Chinese perceived that the Gorbachev-period Soviets (and Russia) have changed their policy, the Chinese came to the realization that resolving the border disputes would enhance their security and they eventually agreed to a territorial compromise. During my interactions with Chinese academics, scholars, political and party leaders, I have told them that if China wants to win the respect of the ASEAN region and the world as it emerges as a global economic powerhouse, it should just use its soft power ---trade, economic relations, investments, loans, cultural and people-to-people exchanges, etc. --in its relations with weaker countries, especially its neighbors. That it should not follow the bad example of Western colonial powers (and the current global superpower) in Asia that employed coercion and force through military power in dealing with smaller and weaker counties. That is, if China wants to gain the respect of its immediate ASEAN neighbors in its backyard. In my meetings and discussions with our Chinese counterparts - academics and scholars -- my purpose was to engage, seeing to it that our point of view and national interests (not of the elite, but of the Filipino people) is not compromised, that there is a fair and equal opportunity in the engagement (exchange of views, discussion, debate, etc. ). I know that the Chinese are trying to win us over to their side in their strategic competition, struggle and quarrel with the United States for a dominant position in the world. But, let us ask, why have we already surrendered our sovereignty to the other dominant big power, which supplies and arms us with already obsolete ships and aircraft - instead of state of the art for our external defense capability - to ostensibly "modernize" our armed forces? But we must assert and assert our sovereign rights and our independence, not a witting or unwitting pawn of either Big Power. We can study well and learn from the experience of our smaller neighbor, Vietnam, in dealing both with China and the Soviet Union who were at odds with each other, to gain and to uphold their country's independence and higher interests. It is in this context that I speak of engaging in the exchange of views, dialogues, discussion or debate with the Chinese especially the Chinese people. There should be more economic cooperation between the two countries, and more people to people exchanges to gain insights and to understand each other better. There should be more educational and training exchanges. In fact, since 2004 when we signed the Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation with China, we have been sending AFP officers for schooling at China's National Defense University in Beijing; at present, there are two AFP officers studying there. We should also do the same with the Americans, the Japanese, or Europeans -- always for the purpose of protecting and promoting the interests of our country and our people in mind. China's immediate neighbor, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, with whom China shares land borders, taught China and all big power bullies a lesson. That smallness in size of economic and military strength is not necessarily an invitation to being pushed around. We must develop and have our own capability to defend what is ours. The Vietnamese nationalist-communists who were once our enemies, showed the French, the Americans and even especially China that when their independence and sovereignty is threatened, they are determined to fight to the end and win. China today highly respect the Vietnamese for this and relations have more than normalized with closer ties. The ideal strategic goal is for the Philippines to enjoy the friendship of the U.S., Japan and China and not be a pawn in their inevitable conflicts. If China can be made to realize that we mean genuine friendship, that our relations with the U.S., Japan or other powers are not directed against China, then the conditions will be improved for the eventual resolution of our disputes. For China's leaders, the most important starting point is strategic trust and friendship. Once that is established, the nitty-gritty of legal, technical, and other detailed negotiations will eventually fall into place. Personally, I am for securing the best interests of our nation and for taking control of the territories and resources that rightfully belong to us. The issue is strategy. A strategy that draws us further away from our goals and threatens to reduce us into a pawn in great-power conflicts will be tragic for our country and people. A new strategy that seeks to win our case without firing a single shot is still possible. My visits to China made me realize how little we know about China. That we need more Filipino academics, researchers, political AND military analysts to specialize on China, as this neighboring country emerges globally and rapidly into an economic and military power. We need to understand the level of our understanding of China's impact on the Philippines and the Asia-Pacific region, and to increase our familiarity with the complexities of Chinese politics, economy and governance. To effectively defend and pursue Philippine national interests and sovereignty as the Asian dragon emerges and to engage it as a neighbor, we need to know how it thinks, what its strengths and weaknesses are. Remember what a Chinese ancient general and author Sun Tzu wrote in 500 B.C.? " Know your enemy and know yourself. You will win a thousand battles, a thousand victories." Even if China was not an enemy, but a friendly but powerful neighbor, we will still have to deal with it in trade negotiations, economic negotiations, and in other bilateral relations. The potential for cooperation is still there, and it should grow. We need to understand this giant neighbor more deeply -- with a critical eye, from our own perspective, and from the vantage point of our national, economic, political, diplomatic and security interests. This is what I mean when I say that in order to earn the respect of the world, especially the Big Powers, we must pursue an INDEPENDENT PHILIPPINE FOREIGN POLICY. Let us defend the integrity and sovereignty of our beautiful country and its people, not any foreign interests. Soldiers of our beloved Republic: If I may use the Philippine Marine Motto: serve with KARANGALAN, KATUNGKULAN, KABAYANIHAN (HONOR, DUTY, VALOR). Thank you and good morning, and MABUHAY!