OFFLINE: China’s diplomacy not working as expected

The People’s Republic of China is having uncomfortable moments where its relations with the Philippines is concerned, and with good reason.

The Philippines today is not the Philippines of seven years ago, when then President Rodrigo Duterte was somehow enveigled to pivot towards China on the belief that the country could never win a war with its powerful neighbor coupled with promises of mega-loans that mostly failed to materialize.

In simple terms, Duterte was duped because he was a dupe, a simpleton who believed anything and everything the Chinese told him. In several visits to China, Duterte shamed the Philippines by acting like Xi Jinping’s pet monkey.

To be honest, President Bongbong Marcos appeared willing to hew closely to Duterte’s irrational path at the start of his presidency. But he appears to have woken up to the subjective truth that he needs the US far, far more than he needs China.

As for Xi, the three-term president of China who seems bent on being president for life is acting like a strongman, but one who is wary of going too far against the US. It must be frustrating for Xi to see the US getting the go signal to set up four new quasi-US bases in the Philippines, specifically the parts that face China.

If push comes to shove and a shooting war erupts, China will learn very quickly that its military is no match for the US. No military analyst would place his bet on China to win, although it could inflict serious damage to the US before it prays and demands that the UN intervene and tell Uncle Sam to pretty please holster his guns.

As for the Philippines, it need not wage war with China, as the later President Benigno Aquino lll proved. All the country had to do was to take China to court.

After the Philippines scored an unexpected but most welcome legal victory, China then acted like a spoiled brat who had been deprived of toys that he was not even playing with, in the first place.

That toy is, of course, the West Philippine Sea, which China insists is part of the South China Sea.

Luckily, Marcos seems to be following some sound advice where the country’s relations with China is concerned. He knows he has to take steps to end the non-stop intrusions of Chinese civilian and military vessels into the WPS.

Marcos still wants to maintain friendly ties with China, but only if the economic and military power stops invading Philippine territory and preventing Filipino fishermen from plying their trade.

There has been and always will be only one solution to end China’s intrusions.

Given the choice on which country to ally itself with, the majority of Filipinos would pick the US over China any day of the week, and twice on Sundays.

I daresay an overwhelming majority of Pinoys will lean towards the US, with minorities either siding with China or play the nationalist card and say the country shouldn’t take sides at all.

China and its diplomats know this, and have taken an obvious tack of trying to ruin the closeness that Filipinos feel towards the US by making America as the bully who must be cut to size. China even used that word bully to describe the US, and its plans to expand the EDCA, or the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Yes, China used the word bully to refer to the US, and perhaps there is much truth to this. The US can, if it wants to, bully China, which has been bullying the Philippines for decades. So there.

All that is happening is China getting – potentially – a taste of its own medicine.

A decade or two ago, some studies surmised that under a worsts-case scenario, World War lll could erupt in Asia, not in Europe, and the conflicting claims to the wealth under the South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea (of course) would be the spark that would result in the unthinkable.

Nobody wants war, of course, but it’s not clear how much Xi hates the idea of going up against the US and its allies like Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Taiwan. For as long as the Chinese leader is not absolutely sure that he can win, he will probably avoid hostilities at all cost.

And yes, sorry to say, the Philippines will have no choice but to take sides, and without a Duterte in the Palace, the leadership will almost certainly lean America’s way. Some will lean grudgingly, but they will eventually accept the reality that the US will emerge bloodied but victorious in the end.

So best to stand behind the American bully which the Chinese bully cannot hope to defeat. The latter do not have a million Bruce Lees to achieve that wild dream.

This is not to say that the Americans have not caused consternation to Filipinos in the past. There have been instances when American soldiers assaulted and even killed Filipino citizens.

Such incidents are used by true as well as pseudo nationalists to warn their kababayans against welcoming the US Armed Forces to re-enter the Philippines in large numbers.

Unless and until the Philippines declares itself a neutral country with a potent military to boot, the country has no choice but to take sides. And here there is no contest.

Duterte was a terrible, awful glitch. He is the kind of president whom the country must never have again, under pain of the Philippines becoming a puppet state of China.

Any future pro-China president guarantees the end of the Philippines as an independent republic. So yes, this yearly the warning must be raised against a Sara Duterte presidency. She is, after all, her father’s daughter. She will be no different from her father.

Meanwhile, Xi and the rest of China’s political and military leadership can seethe all they want. They can’t do a damn thing, and the fact is that the US has already started to encircle China’s waters with US bases now ready to go into war footing at a moment’s notice.

From Japan to South Korea to Taiwan to the Philippines all the way down to Australia, the US already has China checkmated with its defensive wall that cannot be easily crushed.

Much is at stake now, and the one weak spot of the US will be if it elects the wrong president in next elections. A wishy-washy president who blinks when Xi initiates hostilities could end up with the bad guys winning World War lll.