And with that unofficial, but candid remark, the government of the Philippines inadvertently let slip the basis for its decision to follow China in declining to send an official representative to the Nobel Prize awards ceremony in which one of the People’s Republic’s more prominent dissidents Lu Xiaobo is being recognized in absentia. He is currently imprisoned for publishing a manifesto calling for an end to one-party rule by the Communist Party of China.
As the geopolitical center of gravity in this century starts drifting eastwards, the Philippines like all developing nations in the Asia Pacific finds itself having to reconfigure its strategic relationship with its former colonial master, the United States. As the “sleeping giant” that is China awakes, it is beginning to assert its influence mainly through economic means, particularly with nations who have been alienated or sanctioned by the US and the West (i.e. the Cubas and Irans of the world).
Relations with Beijing had been strained previously with the cancellation of the National Broadband Network project that was awarded to the ZTE Corporation, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, and the Luneta hostage taking incidents in which Hong Kong nationals became casualties as a result of a botched rescue operation.
Already, tourism in the country has suffered through a large number of cancellations from the mainland. Unfortunately in siding with China, the Philippines has grouped itself with a number of “flawed democracies” whose path to development does not proceed along the classic Western narrative.
It also puts into doubt the strategy of engagement the West has employed in which trade liberalization with China encourages political liberalization. It now appears that the reverse is happening. By becoming increasingly dependent on China for trade and commerce, countries like the Philippines which once walked in lock step with the US in promoting human rights within ASEAN, are now gravitating towards the Beijing consensus of economic progress without political development.
The dropping of our international human rights credentials diplomatically may have led to the Philippine government taking a more positive step in the domestic scene with the recently released statement by PNoy instructing the Department of Justice to drop formal complaints against the group of health workers known as the Morong 43 who were suspected of aiding communist guerrillas.
In both instances, PNoy was criticized for not treating the issues with the sensitivity of a son whose father suffered under similar circumstances of repression under the Martial Law regime. It now appears that charity begins at home.
But what the events of the past week reveal is that policy is being developed on the fly. Does the Philippines still have a comprehensive policy on human rights that is consistent both at international domestic settings? In the past our stance on the issue put us in league with the US. The only time we compromised was to support the US during the Cold War or with its war on terror. This time around, it is China that is pulling the strings.
For as long as the nation remains dependent on one superpower or another for its economic welfare, it is perhaps too unrealistic for us to expect its foreign policy to be truly considered and independent of external domination or influence.