Friday, April 13, 2012

The Philippines stands up to Beijing, Anti Chinese sentiment

The Philippine Navy deployed its fastest and most modern warship the BRP Gregorio del Pilar to interdict Chinese boats allegedly illegally fishing on Scarborough Shoals which is within Philippine territory. Sailors from the warship boarded one of the boats and found a catch of endangered giant clams and sharks. However Chinese civilian surveillance ships prevented the del Pilar to apprehend the Chinese resulting in a tense standoff. China claims the shoal as part of its territory. As of this writing the warship was ordered withdrawn by the naval command and replaced by a civilian coast guard cutter.

This proves that the Philippines can project its naval power as a blue water navy even with limited assets. President Noynoy Aquino has put much priority in upgrading the naval and air assets of the armed forces and in decisively standing up to Beijing sent a message that China cannot treat its so called "China Sea" as its own lake.

China will have to think twice. Another standoff like this may draw in "persuasion" aircraft carriers from the American 7th Fleet or even the Kongo destroyers of the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces. Surely it is not to Chinese interests that this happens.

Of course it is in the best interest of the Philippines, China and ASEAN if a diplomatic solution is found. But given the growing military might of China, this may be trickier to achieve.

But this is really a historic moment for the last Philippine head of state to confront the Chinese intruding into Philippine waters is none other than the second captain general, Guido de Lavezaris in 1574 who ordered Juan de Salcedo to destroy Limahong's fleet and 3000 Chinese pirates. Limahong wanted to destroy the fledgling Philippine Spanish colony.

Limahong tried to take Manila by first invading Don Galo Paranaque but was soundly defeated by the people of that barrio. Stiff resistance to Chinese invasion made the corsair to retreat to Pangasinan where the Chinese were finally defeated by the Spaniards near the mouth of the Agno River.

Throughout their rule of the colony, the Spanish squashed several Chinese uprisings. But towards the end of Spanish rule in 1898 a detente had been achieved. However due to the Limahong invasion, the Filipino people developed a distrust of Chinese motives in economic activities something that even Filipinos with Chinese ancestry shared, like Dr Jose Rizal who had unflattering words to say about the Chinese  even in his novels about head of their community in Manila, a Chinese national named Quiroga . However the survival of the colony rested on trade with China. The first love hate relationship of the Filipinos was really with the Chinese.

Of course today the Chinese have been mostly integrated with Filipino society and many have fought for this country and contributed to its development and advancement. Unfortunately underneath  this acceptance is a latent anti Chinese sentiment that time and time again rises up to the surface especially when Chinese business interests go against the national  or community consensus. This is exactly what is happening in Baguio where a mall owned by the Sy family is expanding and will result in the felling of pine trees so dear to the city's residents.

This latent anti Chinese feeling is not just in the Philippines but throughout Southeast Asia. Chinese residents of the ASEAN countries have to be sensitive to the politics of the majority ethnic group.

President Noynoy Aquino, who is of Chinese descent ironically becomes the first Philippine head of state to confront the Chinese militarily in 438 years! I believe this is a very strong message to Beijing.

Come to think of it, if Limahong succeeded, THERE WOULD HAVE BEEN NO FILIPINO NATION. The Philippines may have become part of China or if it did oppose the government in Beijing, something like Taiwan but still part of China nonetheless. This is where we have to put the historical context of this "standoff".

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