POSTSCRIPT / October 18, 2022 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Marcos to contend with a tougher Xi?

China’s President Xi Jinping appeared Sunday on his way to firming up further his being the paramount leader of the world’s most populous nation (1.426 billion) by clinching a record third term as general secretary of the powerful Chinese Communist Party.

President Xi Jinping is on his third term as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Photo: Skynews

The 69-year-old Xi managing the world’s second-biggest economy and commanding a fast modernizing military sounded ready to speak with a correspondingly louder voice in global affairs.

That voice was heard over the weekend when he addressed for almost two hours the CCP’s twice-a-decade National Congress and gave the world a preview of China’s direction in foreign affairs, especially its intentions in its neighborhood.

He told nearly 2,300 party members at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People about the need to strengthen China’s “socialist democracy”, boost what is already the world’s No. 2 economy, and beef up its military to top class.

Exuberant applause met Xi’s pledge to “reunify” Taiwan with the mother country without ruling out the use of force in annexing it. Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade territory lying just across the strait off the coast of China’s Fukien province.

Xi told the assembly: “Resolving the Taiwan question is a matter for the Chinese, a matter that must be resolved by the Chinese. We will continue to strive for peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and the utmost effort, but we will never promise to renounce the use of force, and we reserve the option of taking all measures necessary.”

(Taiwan Strait, where Chinese warships and fighter jets unleashed fierce firepower to protest the Aug. 2 visit of US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the island, is only 130 km wide at its narrowest point. American warships were nearby monitoring the fireworks.)

Xi’s threat of possibly using force may pose a problem for President Ferdinand Marcos, who declared at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly that the Philippines –  a “friend to all and enemy of none” – subscribes to the peaceful resolution of disputes.

Warlike moves or belligerent threats are not merely rhetorical but are real geopolitical issues considering the proximity of Taiwan to the Philippines and the existence of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty with the United States.

Kaohsiung City in southern Taiwan is just 295 km from the Batanes Islands in the northernmost part of the Philippines. Some residents of Batan island have told us – maybe in jest? – that on clear nights they could see the lights of Kaohsiung.

If a shooting war erupts over Taiwan, do Filipinos become collateral damage?

* * *

US President Joe Biden has said on many occasions that the US will come to the defense of Taiwan if it is attacked.

If by some miscalculation, China does invade (an unlikely action, we think) and the US per declaration of Biden rushes in with guns blazing (also unlikely), what will Marcos do?

Under our mutual defense treaty, an attack on the US or on American forces in the Pacific Area obligates us to join the fray on the side of Uncle Sam.

We’ve been told by some Philippine diplomats, however, that the US understanding is that the US counterattack is not automatic but subject to their constitutional processes which involve the Congress. It’s instant and automatic only if US forces are directly attacked!

But we are supposed to be no one’s enemy. Ask ko lang: So where do we point our guns? And suppose we run out of bullets? Will the billions in intelligence and confidential funds be disbursed even with “sticky fingers” still around?

Talking about being friend or foe, with the Marcoses on good behavior because they have to mend fences with the US, we wonder how Xi, the BFF of Mayor Duterte, has been taking the pro-US pivot of the current tenant of Malacañang?

When will Xi and Marcos have official meet and greet opportunities, at least to clear the foggy air and warm up the somewhat chilly distance relations? What does Xi think of Marcos going overboard courting US approval for the sake of family? Is it now family or foreign relations?

But soon the November midterm elections in the US will be over. There is this theory that most Americans tend to rally around their President in war or in situations suggesting the US fighting a war someplace to defend democracy, preserve peace, etc.

Watch those brave catchy remarks about defending Ukraine and Taiwan, or helping allies fight aggressors to die down after the Nov. 8 elections. Biden is still in campaign mode, so let’s just wait and not set off unnecessary fireworks.

One of several occasions when Biden said the US would defend Taiwan (even in the absence of a mutual defense treaty like what the US has with the Philippines) was a press conference in Tokyo on May 23.

Asked if he was willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan, the US Commander-in-Chief answered: “Yes… that’s the commitment we made.”

Beijing naturally denounced Biden’s off-the-cuff remark, saying that Taiwan is “purely China’s internal affair that brooks no foreign interference.” The Chinese point was clear enough to deserve being heeded.

Like the Philippines, the US officially recognizes only one China, the one whose capital is Beijing and whose paramount leader is now Xi. We all refrain from making contrary statements, hiding our official thoughts behind what diplomats call “strategic ambiguity”.

So Manila and Taipei mutually maintain information and cultural offices representing our respective governments and our citizens’ interests – without calling these transaction places embassies or consulates.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 18, 2022)

* * *

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