Philippine-China relations and its leaders’ wisdom on a test

Mainland China (PPP)— As I am writing this article, Philippine Vice President Jejomar Binay has already arrived in Beijing to confer with Wang Sheng-jun, Chief Justice of the Supreme People’s Court of the People’s Republic of China and a member of the powerful and influential Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, over the case of three Filipinos who are scheduled to face death penalty on Monday for drug trafficking.

In his pre-departure statement in Manila, Binay said, “As instructed by President Aquino, I leave this morning for Beijing to strong appeal for clemency for our three kababayans on death row. Our Embassy in Beijing informed me this visit is a special consideration for the Philippines, in view of the close friendship between our two countries and peoples. We hope a good thing will happen”

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III is convinced that the three Filipinos facing death penalty in China were merely victims of an international drug syndicate preying upon poor Filipinos in search of jobs overseas.

The Philippine government plea for the commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment for the three Filipino convicts is an unprecedented event in Philippines-China relations and a first in Chinese political and judicial history.

The success or failure of Binay’s special visit to China would show the real colour of Philippine-China relations.

On the Philippine side, I observed that the Philippines is running an extra mile in establishing “guanxi” or special relationship with the eastern hemisphere’s superpower.

It is noteworthy that the Philippine government have exerted so much effort in establishing special relationship to the Chinese government especially after the August 23, 2010 Luneta hostage-taking fiasco and upon learning that several Filipinos are on death row in China.

Wittingly or unwittingly, the Philippine government has made itself hostage on its belief that by supporting China in boycotting the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize and in up-holding the One-China policy over the deportation of Taiwanese to China several weeks ago, China would hear Philippines’ plea to commute the death sentence to Filipinos convicted of drug trafficking.

Last year, amid criticism from many human rights activists and several figures in the international community, Aquino decided to boycott the Nobel Peace Prize awarding ceremony for detained Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo in Oslo, Norway in the hope of securing leniency from the Chinese government and spare the lives of Filipinos on death row. President Aquino said “Our interest is to advance our citizens’ needs first.”

Government insiders have also speculated that the deportation last week of Taiwanese criminals to Mainland China were part of the gambit to appease the Chinese government to accede to the Philippines government’s request to commute the death sentence to the Filipino convicts.

Should China accommodate Philippines’ request to commute the sentence, President Aquino would be vindicated and would be highly praised for his outstanding political calculation. If not, then his diplomatic gambit would prove to be a major political and diplomatic blunder.

On the Chinese side, I believe that the special and humble plea of the Philippines is making the Chinese government and the Communist Party of China (CPC) in deep thinking and serious reflection.

The Chinese government’s change of heart to welcome Binay in China today is a reflection of the on-going deliberations between China’s government officials and party leaders. Chinese and CPC leaders know for a fact the geopolitical importance of Philippines for the realization of its political, economic, and military aspirations for the 21st century. Philippines’ position of weakness as in this case is one case where Chinese can play leverage on.

Despite the repeated pronouncement of the Chinese Embassy in Manila that the Chinese chief justice does not have the power to overturn the death penalty set to be carried out on three Filipino drug traffickers, it would be comforting for Filipinos to know that there were cases in the past wherein the Chinese supreme court have rejected death penalty decided by lower courts and that the leaders of CPC has a big say on everything that China considers as an issue of national importance.

That being said, as much as this situation is a test for Aquino’s political wisdom it is also a test of wisdom for Chinese leaders. And the fate of the three Filipinos on the edge of the gallows on Monday is not a hopeless case. Like many Filipinos, I am hoping that China would find wisdom in commuting the death penalty to the three Filipino drug mules who I am so convinced are just plain and simple victims of international criminals and of poverty in the Philippines.


Sun Cheng-jun is a Filipino blogger based in Mainland China. He studied Politics, History, and Languages in Philippines and China. His current events commentary blog “PH.CN” appears weekly.

J. Sun E.

Sun, a Filipino based in China, writes PH.CN on ProPinoy, a weekly column on Philippines-China relations, politics, history, and current events. He studied Political Science, History, and Foreign Languages in Philippines and China. Follow him on Twitter @phdotcn

  • GabbyD

    i like your analysis here sun. i agree. i only fear that whether it “works” or not, the philippines will be vulnerable.

  • Whether or not Aquino’s “gambit” to appease mainland China has an effect on the outcome of this present situation with the Filipino drug traffickers, I believe that it was already a blunder to have deported the Taiwanese to mainland China. It has led to straining our relations with Taiwan, which is a trading partner and a destination for so many OFWs as well as Filipino tourists & businessmen. If it is true that our leaders are always exerting effort to please/appease mainland China, then we are indeed headed for more disappointments in the future.