Relations between the United States and China Manila Times
Relations between the United States and China  Manila Times

Relations between the United States and China Manila Times

LAST month, the Philippine Council on Foreign Relations (PCFR) and the Harvard Kennedy School Alumni Association of the Philippines sponsored a webinar on “US-China Relations.” It was hosted by PCFR trustee and former Philippine Ambassador to Russia Jaime Bautista with Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center. Anthony James Saich, Director of the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and Edward Cunningham 4., Director of the Ash Center China Programs, Asia Energy and Sustainability Initiative spoke at the webinar.

A diverse audience was invited from members of both sponsorship organizations and from the diplomatic, security, economic and academic sectors. If they only had time, it would have been a golden opportunity for the presidential candidates to get a better perspective on geopolitics and international relations. The aim was to help the public see better how evolving relations between the United States and China could have a beneficial or negative impact on the country’s national interests from Professor Saich and Cunningham’s valuable insights.

A wide range of geostrategic factors affecting US-China relations were dissected – core interests, trade, finance, investment, internal politics, social affairs, cybersecurity, natural resource management (water, energy, rare earths), information technology and people-to-people exchange of people (education, tourism). Areas of strategic competition and strategic cooperation were analyzed and how their two-pronged security-economic relations are destabilizing for many countries that are trapped between and who do not like to take sides.

No sign of another Cold War

Some takeaways if I got it right. Despite gloomy signs of decoupling and incessant demonstrations of military power in the South China Sea, there are no signs of a really cold war. Trade between the United States and China is recording growth. Over 300,000 Chinese students are in the United States. While the number of tourism has declined, travel back and forth remains open. The hostile rhetoric seems to be fading. Could a “modus vivendi” be taking shape? How would it play out in applicant countries like the Philippines? In any case, would China persist with its aggressive anti-access, area-denial practice?

US-China relations are of great importance to the Philippines in terms of our security and development. Both countries are vital to the Philippines. The United States is a defense ally of the Philippines; the two are bound by a mutual defense treaty that provides protection against an aggressor nation. On the other hand, China (including Hong Kong) is the Philippines’ number one trading partner (Japan is in second place, the United States in third place), with a significant economic and financial footprint in the country. But its expansionist goals and coercive methods are evident in our exclusive economic zones (EEZ).

Our economies are as intertwined as our societies. We have a large and dynamic Filipino Chinese community. They are a driving force in our economy and act as bridges to China and other overseas Chinese communities. We have a large Filipino American community living on both sides of the Pacific that keeps our socio-cultural ties as close as our security alliance. Our strategic connections and location enable us to create peace between them, provided we make good use of our national power; and shape our future if we do it right.

Intertwined economies

The Philippines is also a member of the Regional Economic Partnership (RCEP), a trade agreement signed by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and five other countries, namely China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand – making it the largest trading block in history. The RCEP mitigates the geoeconomic risk for China as it gains benefits in regional economic and political affairs, backed by the Brick and Road, Maritime Silk Road and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank initiatives. But there is a rough patch that could unravel the RCEP and the international order. Confrontation now seems to offset the collaboration.

Within ASEAN, four countries have maritime issues with China, particularly with its core interest in the 4 Shas (China’s current narrative instead of the nine-dashed line) to take control of the South China Sea, namely the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei. And separately with Taiwan and Japan. Their strife simmers in the face of strategic competition between Beijing and Washington, drawing other RCEP signatories into the fray – Japan, Australia and New Zealand – who also reject China’s ambition to be the region’s security lord.

Free navigation operations and joint military exercises by the United States with its Quad partners (India, Japan and Australia) and some NATO member states (Britain, Canada, France, Germany) have met with defiant Chinese resistance and counter-exercises in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait. The escalating demonstration of power from both sides raises concerns about a random kinetic conflict that can quickly erode into nuclear war, where everyone loses and everything that benefits humanity is totally destroyed.

There are no parallels today in the relationship between the United States and China, similar to the Cold War between the United States and the USSR, and the fierce hot wars that they and their agents are fighting. Both sides are still collaborating in important areas of human and scientific effort. As bad as their confrontation is today, there are opportunities for cooperation and collaboration, especially where global challenges affect the common interests of humanity. The Philippines, of course, would prefer that they focus instead on the common threats to the welfare of mankind.

For example, man-made climate change, which has caused extreme weather worldwide and raised global temperatures, which has a negative impact on food and water security that is so crucial to human survival. The earth is our only home. We must act decisively and persistently to save it. Another concern is the coronavirus pandemic, the invisible enemy that has disrupted our lives, the global economy, and the immediate future. How much longer can humanity take a beating that seriously affects its psycho-socio-economic state?

With great powers comes great obligations. “Will the great powers and all the countries within their spheres of influence redirect themselves to seek common ground for human and ecological security? How do we in our case exploit our geostrategic location and historical ties with both countries in our national interest? It is a big task, but we must try for the long-term survival of humanity, it is the sensible and moral thing to do.

The author is chairman of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations (PCFR). He also served in the cabinets of Presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos.

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