How sincere is China

How sincere is China

October 9, 2023

Another collision incident involving Chinese militia and coast guard vessels harassing Philippine supply boats occurred last October 22 within the 200 mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. The incident according to the Philippine government “may lead to disastrous results” while Washington warns anew that it is obligated to defend the Philippines under the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty.

How does one reconcile the fact that China repeatedly offers financial or development assistance to the Philippines while tolerating its naval forces’ aggressive actions in Philippine waters? Does it not reflect lack of sincerity in China’s part when Xi Jin Ping is all smiles and handshakes when, for instance, he and former president Duterte sign roughly 29 economic assistance agreements, yet the Chinese president remains mum on such naval intimidation of a friend-nation? Would that be called diplomacy or hypocrisy?

Lest our lack of knowledge lead to hasty judgments and further divisions, we do acknowledge that international politics and diplomacy are complex, and actions taken by nations often involve a web of motivations and interests.
There are several aspects to consider in the context of China’s relations with the Philippines (or other countries in a similar predicament). One of them is economic interests. China’s approach to diplomacy often involves promoting economic cooperation and investment. The agreements and deals signed with the Philippines can serve the mutual economic interests of both countries. Often presented positively in the media, these economic partnerships can lead to infrastructure development and economic growth.

As it seems, the territorial disputes in the South China Sea are a separate issue from economic cooperation and development agreements. China has been criticized for not fully addressing these disputes and for continuing to assert its territorial claims in the South China Sea, adversely affecting its diplomatic relations with not only the Philippines, but also other Southeast Asian nations with territorial claims and maritime rights in the region.

Diplomacy is often characterized by pragmatism and the pursuit of national interests. Leaders engage in dialogue and negotiations to further their countries’ interests. This can lead to situations where contentious issues such as territorial disputes are swept under the rug. Neither party wants to acknowledge the elephant in the room, lest it jeopardizes the economic agreement in progress.

Media’s portrayal of diplomatic engagements may not always reflect the full complexity of the relationship between China and the Philippines. Smiles and handshakes during meetings and signings are often part of diplomatic protocol, but they don’t necessarily resolve underlying disputes.

It’s hard to believe in China’s good intentions when it appears to pursue economic interests while also maintaining a hardline stance on territorial disputes. And things are getting worse for the Philippines, when its fishermen simply out to make a living are hit with water cannons, its Coast Guard men blinded by laser beams, and their supply boats rammed by gigantic “militia” vessels. All right, we agree that the complexity of such issues often leads to a divergence between diplomatic rhetoric and the reality on the ground, but how much longer must the Filipinos wait to claim back what is rightfully theirs?