As President Aquino prepares for his state visit to China, it would be well for him and his advisers to appreciate what the world’s second-biggest economy and emerging military power is going through as it situates itself properly in the community of nations. To have the visit heavily focused on the Spratlys issue, as some senior administration officials and their cohorts have been trying to project, is to lose the opportunity to engage China in a more mature and responsible way. Not that the issue is insignificant; no, not at all. But to overconcentrate our energies on its resolution during the visit is to be naive and uninformed. As we have been saying all along this “dispute,” which dates back to ancient times will probably remain as such for years to come.
What we have to discuss and get the Chinese to agree to is how we can ensure that the “dispute” does not graduate into an armed conflict and, perhaps more important, for that contested area to be transformed into a zone of peace and development” soon enough so that together with the other claimants, we can reap the benefits from opening it to such an undertaking. It is clear that once the parameters of “joint development” get ironed out, the possibility of armed clashes will substantially diminish.
Which is why we urge the planners of this visit to take a long and expansive view and submit to the President a responsive and targeted “briefing note” to ensure that this one will deepen our close to four decades of formal diplomatic relations even more into a truly fruitful, sustainable and mutually beneficial one at all levels. The biggest challenge in this very critical visit is to lay the foundations of deepened long-term relations, not flash-in-the-pan, bring-home-the-bacon types of workouts, which, unfortunately, has been the hallmark of such visits in the recent past. The latest dispatches issued by leaders across the globe about their own countries’ take on the new China should be instructive.
The Australian view
Here’s what Australian Premier Julia Gillard said about the outlook for global growth in the face of the downgrading of the US credit rating by Standard & Poor’s (S&P) and the continuing tangles enveloping the euro-zone countries, especially the so-called PIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) group: “What’s happening in Europe I think is more concerning than what’s happening in the US….We continue to monitor all of the developments with concern; we do think there will be some impact on global growth…China will continue to grow and grow strongly….The world is advantaged and our region is advantaged by China engaging strongly in the global multilateral system.”
Premier Gillard’s remarks should be an eye-opener for a number of reasons. We note that Australia has been able to weather the global economic downturn quite successfully by parlaying its rich mineral resources and enhanced industrial and infrastructure situation into a “recession beater” of sorts. Her balanced assessment of the “seeds of economic rebound and growth” is worth emulating considering the fact that Australia remains one, if not the most trusted, US ally in the Asia-Pacific region and, yes, China’s “cornerstone supplier of mineral resources like coal and iron ore.” There is solid foundation there, not emotion- driven shooting-from-the-hip.
Gillard also takes a balanced view as far as the security situation in the region is concerned. While acknowledging its long-standing cooperation with the US in this regard, she also signaled that she will not allow the establishment of a US “stand-alone” military base on Australian territory, perhaps out of regard for Chinese sensitivities on this subject. Reports have it that the US is currently conducting a global military posturing review in the face of rapidly changing developments in the global political-military situation.“I don’t think it’s likely to be on the agenda but we will work through with the US on what it is that they most want to see out of their posture review,” Gillard was quoted as having said in a wide-ranging interview with the Wall Street Journal.
In the same interview, Premier Gillard noted that Australia was conducting its own posture review and was considering “redeploying its military resources to better protect energy infrastructure.” Reports have it that Australia will be spending billions to purchase air warfare destroyers, submarines, frigates and F-35 aircraft to counter growing regional threats and “in direct response to our strategic understanding of the world we live in.” Gillard talked of other areas of interest as far as its relations with the two superpowers are concerned but, by and large, the assessment is cautious, forward looking and inoffensive which should be par for the course.
A note from Biden
EVEN more significant of late was the tenor of US Vice President Joseph Biden’s own visit to China a few days ago. Coming as it did after months of intense, sometimes irritating, exchanges over a whole range of issues from the US handling of its economy, especially its fiscal practices to its highly interventionist operations in many regions of the world including the “South China Sea” disputes, the Biden visit stressed the importance of “cooperation amid global uncertainty.” As the international press noted there was no “finger wagging” during his stay, Mr. Biden was quoted as having said in a meeting with Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping that “the economic stability of the world in no small part rests on cooperation between the United States and China. It affects every country.” In response, Jinping advised “China and the United States have ever more extensive common interests and we shoulder ever more important common responsibilities.”