Who are your friends? “Tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are.” If recent events are any indication, it seems that the Philippines has now shifted its alliance to the left. In a surprising move and for reasons unclear, the Philippines, under the watch of the Aquino government has snubbed the invitation to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway.
One can make the easy intellectual leap to suspect that the pressure from Beijing has a lot to do with this decision. Ever since imprisoned Chinese scholar and activist Liu Xiaobo won the Nobel Peace Prize, China had been expressing its outrage against it and labeled it a “display of arrogance and prejudice against a country that has made the most remarkable economic and social progress.”
The Philippine government’s decision to send its regrets to Oslo also sent a strong statement to the rest of the world — that our country is not as self-reliant as we’d like to think and that our convictions are weak. Human rights activists were shocked by the decision. According to an Associated Press report, “human Rights Watch deputy director for Asia Elaine Pearson said in a statement Thursday that the Philippines is failing to live up to its promise to promote human rights in Asia.”
Some say that it is an attempt by the Aquino administration to appease China over the Mendoza Hostage fiasco on the 23rd of August 2010. Unfortunately, the snub highlighted that the Philippines counts itself among 17 other countries who have “flawed democracies”; “hybrid regimes” or are “authoritarian” states all of whom have declined the invitation to attend the awarding ceremony. One can interpret this as the Philippine government unofficially acknowledging our place among some of the world’s coddlers of human rights abusers. Others have labeled us “mukhang pera” for prioritizing the monetary gains before human rights.
Some analysts have put the Philippines on the same mound inhabited by countries such as Ukraine, Colombia and Serbia – countries that are not really “full fledged” democracies. Considering that the other countries that are not attending have U.S. sanctions against them like Cuba, Iran and Sudan, the Aquino government’s decision is a bit of a head scratcher if not a blow to U.S.-Philippine relations. Whatever the consequence of Malacanang’s decision, it “is a blow to the cause of free expression” according to Harry Roque, chairman of the Philippine-based Center for International Law (CenterLaw).
What does the ceremony signify, really? They say that the Nobel sends a signal to the young Chinese generation that the world is still concerned about China and its common values. Unfortunately, the message might just fly over the heads of most Chinese that are enjoying their country’s economic prosperity.
Most Chinese citizens do not even know who Liu Xiaobo is because he has spent most of his time in jail or under surveillance. And although he was a big figure during the 1989 Tiananmen democracy movement, many other Tiananmen-era activists have abandoned their campaigns and instead set their sights on the new glittery China. The Chinese Communist Party equation is simple: economics trumps politics, prosperity precedes polls, and social stability prevails over individual expression. What really is the agenda behind this ceremony? Whatever the West tries to push, China remains undeterred and there are more and more countries including the Philippines that are joining them.
As a result of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), which has slowed down the American economy, it is becoming obvious to the rest of the world that the U.S. is slowly losing its grip on power around the globe. For a country that has gotten so used to commanding respect and influence worldwide, America has no choice but to learn how to walk again by treading carefully.
Couple the GFC with the atrocities committed by American military personnel during the Iraq war and the no-where-near-its-end war in Afghanistan; one cannot blame other countries if they begin to have doubts if America still has the moral high ground or the capacity to lead. Wikileaks documents haven’t really helped America with their tarnished image overseas. In other words, if you ask Julian Assange, the U.S. does not have any right to cry foul over human rights abuses by China when they have their human rights abuses to answer for.
The Philippines have always had America to rely on in times of crisis. This is despite futile attempts of some so-called Filipino patriots who insist that we should keep Uncle Sam out of our shores. Our lukewarm relationship with the west is enough reason I suppose not to burn bridges with the other super-”friend”, China especially, who for some time now has been flexing her muscles.
While the U.S. government does its best to recover from issues ranging from a huge budget deficit to their long drawn out crusades in Muslim countries, you can say that they are also preoccupied with a war with another country. And I’m not just talking about a war involving weapons of mass destruction. I’m talking about the currency war going on right under everyone’s noses involving the U.S. dollar and the Chinese Yuan.
Some Americans from both the Republican and Democratic parties have been accusing China of keeping the renminbi, its currency, undervalued and blaming it as the reason why the U.S. dollar is depreciating. Others are saying though that while China is keeping its currency undervalued, it is not the only reason why the U.S. dollar is weak. It’s not hard to believe both to be true but the U.S can’t keep stomping their feet and expect others to give in without reviewing their own economic policies.
For the past few decades, the U.S. has shifted its focus and imports more than it exports from 90 other countries around the world. Obviously, over the years, America has favored consumption more than production. According to an economic expert from Yale University, Stephen Roach; this has resulted in the U.S. dollar falling in value by 23% since 2002. In a nutshell, when you have less manufacturing, you have less trading partners. If you have nothing to trade, you can’t join the trading game. It’s that simple.
Over a century ago, America’s hunger for raw materials was so great that ships steamed across the Pacific full of materials like Chinese pig iron and Philippine mahogany to help build their railways, roads, and ports. Nowadays, the ships most likely contain Nike goods and other clothing items. China’s hunger for raw material has definitely replaced that of any other Western nation.
Even Singapore and South Korea ship electronic components that are assembled in China and re-exported to the U.S. and Europe. And the Chinese have become big consumers as well with most of the stuff being imported into China consumed inside China and not just re-exported to another country. Vietnam and Indonesia bring in commodities such as coal, tin or foodstuff like coffee or shrimp just for Chinese consumption.
And while the U.S. is fast becoming irrelevant as a trading partner in the Asian region, China on the other hand, has signed bilateral free-trade agreements with 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific region compared that with the U.S. signing with only two countries, Singapore and Australia. This indicates that trade within Asia is deepening and diversifying in the Asian region’s economy with China acting as a magnet pulling all smaller Asian countries to its direction. This situation is calling into question the primacy of the U.S. dollar as a reserve currency and instrument of trade.
With the weakening greenback, China is said to be increasingly using the Yuan under a series of swap agreements to trade with its Asian partners including South Korea, Malaysia and Indonesia. It seems that China is setting the stage for a Yuan currency zone in Asia.
What does it all mean for the Philippines though? Are we even joining in the “fun” happening in our own region? Can our manufacturing and export sector benefit from China’s growth? China’s emergence as the world’s leading manufacturer resulted in its increased demand for primary commodities. China would need petroleum products, crude rubber, pulp and paper, which I know the Philippines have a potential to supply those if we can only manage our resources well.
With respect to the service sector, the Philippines may well position itself in business process outsourcing, and the latest industry arising out of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) – knowledge process outsourcing (KPO). And, when China’s entrepreneurs’ manufacturing plants expand into the global markets, there will be a need for our highly skilled, English-speaking workforce to provide BPO services. It’s shame though that our tourism industry has suffered a setback in China because of the hostage fiasco.
Everything is happening at a lightning speed and the Philippines should really focus on the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon and say “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!” Perhaps not attending the ceremony at Oslo is in the short term, not good for human rights causes but good for the economy in the long term. That is, if we can get our priorities right.