[My next Catalyst article].
The upcoming Beijing trip of President Aquino reminds me of the game of Chinese checkers. This game has the objective akin to Pacman where winner takes all by eating all opponents. Chinese checkers has the additional tactical moves such as by blocking an “eat” by positioning two chips in the path of the opponent’s chip or putting one chip with its back against the board border, by putting out or sacrificing one chip in a trap to eat two or more chips of the opponent, or by strategic positioning to set up a trap the opponent cannot but walk into.
The asymmetrical balance of political and resource factors between world power China and the Philippine puny state define the parameters of the Aquino state visit. There is, of course, the unseen-but-cannot-be-ignored superpower United States that has its own interests in Southeast Asia and elsewhere in the world that frequently clash with Chinese interests. It is this reality that pushed the Philippines, perhaps unwillingly, from local or regional diplomatic arena into the unfamiliar great-power plays that all-too-frequently crushes the small player.
The crux of the matter here is control or access to the potentially bountiful riches of oil and mineral resources in or around the Philippine territory, the control or access to strategic sea lanes which Philippines straddle, and the strengthening or breaking of the “containment ring” allied Western powers have put around China. Unfortunately, the Philippines is a key chip in this checkers game.
It is undoubtedly in the national interests of all parties involved to maintain their viability in the game. Most of the time, preserving the status quo suffices. However, there may come a time when there is a need to redefine the relationships of these parties and establish a new reality. Such, I think, is the present moment.
China, in this case, caused the changing of the balance of power not only in the region but globally. It is now entering the stage as a world power, second only to the United States. It is now flexing its muscle to have this recognized against a backdrop of severe economic stresses of the capitalist system centered in the Western developed economies. Ironically, China is looked upon by most of these countries as a possible savior to prevent a serious global recession because of its massive domestic market, strong currency and reserve position, and high technology base.
The downside to China’s growth is its insatiable appetite for raw materials and energy sources, huge foreign reserves and external holdings, and its export-oriented economy, making it a major competitor to the Western countries in terms of their own game. The Philippines is a classic case of a chip caught in the middle of powerful contending plays of dominant players.
How to survive or even profit from this situation is a political, economic and diplomatic challenge to President Aquino and his administration. The forthcoming visit therefore by a new president presents an opportunity to set up new plays and redefine China-Philippine relations according to principles of mutual benefit, friendship, and respect for each other’s sovereignty. This even as the Philippines needs to assure Western friends of its own respect for their interests.
Chinese checkers is a game of foresight and maneuver. Yet, at the end, one must lose and the other will win. Creating a situation where no one loses but everybody wins requires thinking beyond the game. Will PNoy and his foreign policy advisers deliver the goods?