Philippine-Chinese relations are “at an all-time high,” as Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo declared in Xiamen the other day, China being nowadays a capitalist power exporting its excess capital all over the world including the Philippines.
Chinese capital—the homegrown one amassed through the privatization of such key sectors of its economy as heavy industry, rather than that of overseas Chinese Filipinos are most familiar with—is increasingly in evidence in the Philippines. One of the more visible examples is Chinese involvement in the North Rail project, which I suppose is among the reasons for the Arroyo regime’s current “high.”
Like most projects of its kind, the $503 million rehabilitation of the Kalookan-Malolos portion of the country’s decrepit railway system (partly financed with a loan from the China Export-Import Bank) has been plagued by the usual allegations of corruption, and claims that the contract between the Philippines and the China National Machinery and Equipment Corporation is disadvantageous to the Philippines.
There’s also the problem of relocating the otherwise homeless who’ve settled along the 32-kilometer stretch of railroad tracks covered by the project. As usual, it’s a social problem the Philippine government is “solving” through force—it’s demolishing the communities and harassing the settlers’ leaders to drive them out.
The (mainland) Chinese don’t care, whether about corruption or the human costs of the project. Their corporations’ main interest is the maximization of profit. That’s why they went into the project in the first place—though in the name of “close Filipino-Sino relations” rather than gain.
Nowadays those relations are governed simply by what either party can get out of them. The Philippines being the needy party, and China being awash with excess capital and billions to export, it’s the latter who’ll get what it wants, whether by engaging the Philippines in whatever ambitions the current leaders of China may have about widening China’s influence in the Asean region, and/or assuring the profitability of its capitalist enterprises. As for the leaders of the country of our distress, we all know what’s in it for them. Contracts “disadvantageous to the Philippines” are paradoxically advantageous to those who sign them.
It didn’t use to be that way. When Philippines-China relations were resumed in June, 1975 after decades of Cold War estrangement, Mao Zedong (Mao tse-tung) was still chair of the Chinese Communist Party and Zhou Enlai (Choui en-lai) Prime Minister of the People’s Republic. Ferdinand Marcos was, like Mrs. Arroyo today, de facto President of the Philippines (his second term ended in 1973), which he had placed under martial law. Then as now there was an “insurgency” problem, but with the difference that China was supporting it politically and morally– and, so the Marcos regime alleged, logistically through arms shipments.
All this didn’t prevent Marcos from flying to Beijing to meet Mao and Zhou, and neither did it prevent Mao and Zhou from welcoming him. Although Marcos hoped that reestablishing relations would put an end to Chinese Communist Party support for the Communist Party of the Philippines, Mao and Zhou regarded that issue as separate from “state-to-state relations.”
It was in keeping with the logic of those relations that China entered into trade and cultural agreements with the Philippines, and helped soften the impact of the energy crisis by selling the Philippines fuel oil at “friendship” prices.
In 1975 the Chinese government still recognized three types of foreign relationships. In addition to state-to-state relations, which allowed contacts between China and other states regardless of differences in political and social systems, there were party-to-party and people-to-people relations.
All three imposed certain responsibilities on China. The first mandated equality, mutual benefit, and non-interference in each others’ affairs. The second bound China to providing political, moral and material support to fraternal parties. The third were primarily relations between people’s organizations independently pursued on the basis of equality and friendship.
Today only state-to-state relations remain in the Chinese firmament of foreign affairs. It has foregone party-to-party relations, and made people-to-people relations the relic of a principled past. This explains why such social issues as the fate of the settlers along the North Rail tracks are of no moment to China today. And it also explains why Mrs. Arroyo could reiterate, right in China itself – and so loudly she obviously wanted China’s leadership to hear it– that she hopes to “break the back of the (Philippine) communist insurgency” by 2010.
Mrs. Arroyo need not have bothered to remind her Chinese hosts of her most cherished goal. China’s leadership couldn’t care less if she succeeds, or if she doesn’t. Neither does it care how she does it, or fails to do it. It won’t even do these days to remind the Chinese leadership that once upon a time in China, the Chiang regime, with which the Arroyo regime has so much in common, used assassinations, abductions and arrests to “break the back” of the insurgency that by 1948 would take power in China, and without which China today would be among the poorest countries on the planet. Either it doesn’t remember, or it doesn’t care to.
What really matters to that leadership is who or what’s in power, whether fascist thug, military goon, a zombie from a George Romero film, or the devil himself; it will deal with it. After all, Philippine¬-Chinese relations are “at an all-time high,” aren’t they?