The Self-respect of Nations: The Philippines and China
by W. Scott Thompson and Oliver Geronilla
Somewhere in the first of Trollope’s 6-volume set Palliser Novels, “the Prime Minister,” the Duke of Omnium, also the premier, tells his usually silly wife that—and we paraphrase—nations are like people: they elicit respect from outside powers to about the same extent that they do so on a personal basis—according to how much respect they give themselves.
We respect countries and people who respect themselves. Costa Rica is truly a tiny country, but it eliminated its military, developed peaceful relations with its neighbors, and is by far the most prestigious country in its neighborhood. ...view middle of the document...
China has been ascending up a steep ladder. Britain and then America, as they expanded, found ‘natural and historical’ rights to establish coaling stations that became colonies or extra-territorial enclaves. America found ‘friends’ to rent all over the world as cold war fever swept over it, and poor countries like Ethiopia sold rights to its Asmara high ground, where a vital communications link was built to bring the world together—under American hegemony.
Historically, China has not gone in that way. It never established a world empire. It thinks regionally--whence its invasion of Vietnam in late 1978, to ‘teach it a lesson,’ though it seems like it was China that got taught a lesson. Yet here’s the rub for the Philippines: It’s right in the way of China’s claim to maritime supremacy in its region.
Manila is right to build up its navy to minimize the danger. It is wrong to go around feeling sorry for itself. No one respects that. But there is precedent. One of us, on September 1st will be publishing a long and authorized biography of former President Fidel Ramos, in which a major player is General Jose Almonte, himself quite a card to play, as the region’s foremost and smartest strategist. FVR assigned Joal the job of dealing with China over the first real eruption of major problems with China over the Spratly islands. Joal told us—and we are paraphrasing from the forthcoming biography—that he didn’t even believe in FVR’s assignment—to find a solution. Joal understands power; he didn’t believe he had any cards to play. But he rallied the region, even consulting Koreans and other nearby non-Asean powers. He put China on the defensive and they began asserting that they were not a traditional great power; they weren’t trying to use...