For the past several years, the prospect of Chinese invasion of the Philippines has instilled fear among Filipinos. They remember the Japanese invasion in 1942.
When China reclaimed the Panganiban Reef, also known as Mischief Reef, in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) in 1994, that fear transformed into apprehension. When China started building artificial islands around seven reefs in the Spratly Islands in the WPS in 2013, the Philippine government went into a state of shock not knowing how to respond to China’s takeover of parts of the Spratlys. When China began building airbases and harbors capable of hosting warplanes, warships, and missiles on the artificial islands, the Philippine government tried to appease the “Chinese Dragon” that’s extending her territory in the WPS. And when she started deploying aircraft and missiles in the militarized artificial islands, the Philippine government slid into paralytic state, incapable of how to deal with the “Chinese Dragon.”
In May 2017, Duterte visited Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing. In their meeting, Duterte boldly told Xi: “We intend to drill oil there, if it’s yours, well, that’s your view, but my view is, I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours.” Xi responded, “We’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship, but if you force the issue, we’ll go to war.”
Xi made it clear that the two nations’ friendship is second only to China’s territorial claim in the WPS. Xi’s veiled message was: “Don’t touch the West Philippine Sea. It’s ours.”
When Duterte was back home, he said that some groups in the country were pressuring him to take stronger action to assert the Philippines’ ownership of the WPS. He told them, “We cannot afford a war. We cannot win a battle against China and I would only lose maybe thousands of my troops and policemen.” That was the gist of Duterte’s foreign policy vis-à-vis China.
When Duterte spoke before an audience of Filipino-Chinese businessmen on February 19, 2018, he said: “If you want, just make us a province, like Fujian.” The businessmen applauded Duterte’s statement while Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua grinned approvingly.
In July 2018, residents in Manila and other cities woke up to see red banners hanging from footbridges reading, “Welcome to the Philippines, province of China,” complete with the Chinese flag and Chinese characters. Nobody knows who put up the red banners. However, many saw it as a protest to Duterte’s failure to assert the country’s rights in the disputed waters.
The Philippines isn’t a part of Xi’s “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) strategic initiative to link Asia, Europe, and Africa, which is modelled after the “Silk Road.” But it is now part of OBOR’s ancillary routes. As it’s now apparent, OBOR is the answer to Xi’s “China Dream” to reshape global trade with Beijing at its core. China would be the world’s new imperial power.
Indeed, OBOR’s expansion into the Philippines has drawn various industries. One of them is offshore gaming known as Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO), which was established after Duterte took over the government in 2016. Chinese gaming companies have “invaded” the country. There are now more than 50 POGO licensees, many of which are Chinese groups.
The influx of Chinese gaming companies has created another industry ━ real estate. Due to the demand for POGO facilities, offices and houses by the Chinese expats, property values have skyrocketed. Incidentally, POGO companies employ mostly Chinese nationals. According to a property consultant, the growth is phenomenal. POGO groups use almost a quarter of a million square meters of office space.
Cruise ships, which were non-existent in Philippine waters just a few years ago, have contributed to the country’s tourism industry. Junket players and heavy-betting Chinese gamblers are also contributing to the profits of POGO companies.
A giant in the casino industry, Chinese casino Galaxy Entertainment Group would soon open its expansion by building a $550 million casino in Boracay.
When the Duterte administration invited telecommunication companies to bid for a third concession, three Chinese communication giants looked for Filipino partners to qualify to bid. This is because the Philippine Constitution requires 60% ownership of all Philippine-registered corporations. And this is where “dummy” stockholder and partners came in.
Government records show that more than three million Chinese nationals were allowed to enter the Philippines since 2016. Many have attributed the influx to Duterte’s shift in foreign policy since the beginning of his presidency.
In an attempt to curb the steady flow of Chinese nationals in the Philippines, Sen. Leila de Lima filed a resolution urging the Senate to investigate the “problem” that she said “not only steals jobs away from ordinary Filipinos but also triggers property surge on many developed areas.”
Meanwhile, Philippine Ambassador to China Chito Sta. Romana has been advocating the relaxation of visa restrictions “to encourage tourism on both ways on mutually beneficial terms.”
But all things said, there is a long history of mistrust of the Chinese, fuelled by China’s territorial claims in the WPS. As China continues to bully the Philippines over the territorial disputes, China will never be seen in the eyes of Filipinos as a friend. Indeed, the threat of war or invasion has made “friendship” with China untenable.
In my article, “Who discovered the Philippines?” I wrote: “In 1405, during the reign of the Ming Dynasty in China, Emperor Yung Lo claimed the island of Luzon and placed it under his empire. The Chinese called the island “Lusong” from the Chinese characters Lui Sung. The biggest settlement of Chinese was in Lingayen in Pangasinan. Lingayen also became the seat of the Chinese colonial government in Luzon. When Yung Lo died in 1424, the new Emperor Hongxi lost interest in the colony. The colonial government was dissolved. However, the Chinese settlers in Lingayen — known as “Sangleys” — remained and prospered.
With historical incidents of Chinese colonization of Luzon, and the present-day massive arrival of Chinese nationals assimilating into the various industries in the country, many are concerned that they would soon control the wealth and patrimony of the nation.
It makes one wonder: Just like 600 years ago when China claimed and placed Luzon under her empire, is she now in a position to claim the Philippines as her province or vassal state? Or has Chinese colonization begun? (PerryDiaz@gmail.com)