China vs US: Choosing side



A recent visitor to the Philippines was celebrity author of the book When China Rules the World. He presented two arguments – one debatable and the other one disturbing. I found the title of the book disturbing since I have no desire to be ruled by another country, even by China. We have gone through periods of colonization by Spain, America and Japan. None of them were pleasant experiences – to say the least.

During Jacques’ public forum, Eddie Yap, Filipino business leader and MAP National Issues committee chairman was in the reaction panel. Here is his reaction to the first Jacques assertion:

“Celebrity author Martin Jacques argued in his global bestseller that China will overtake US as major economic power and will overturn the world order with its own hybrid civilization-cum-. His second thesis rest on the first…China’s surge levelled off in 2015 and since then is just running almost parallel to the United States.” Yap then showed that since 2016 the US share of world GDP has remained constant at 24% while China’s share has also remained constant at 16%. The trend does not indicate crossover in the foreseeable future. In other words, the percentage share of world GDP of the two nations will remain the same in the foreseeable future.

The other assertion that China will rule the world, Eddie Yap had this analysis:

“”On a geopolitical topic relevant to us… if one believes Martin Jacques’s argument that China will rule, overturn the world order, you may be disturbed by his other assertion – (China will) ‘ rapidly reassume its traditional place at the center of East Asia, the old tributary system will resurface in a modern form, contemporary ideas of racial hierarchy will be redrawn China’s age old sense of superiority will reassert itself.’

Is Jacques articulating China’s thinking? Tributary system?

It helps China if we buy Jacques’s narrative of China domination, as it could ease the neutering process. Could Finlandization be the modern form of the ‘old tributary system’ they are contemplating? Recall that in times past, the Sultan of Sulu was said to have visited the emperor of China and paid tribute.”

During the presidency of Deng Xiaoping, China pursued an external strategy of”hide and bide” Deng pursued a policy of keeping a low profile and looking for “win-win” solutions. During his term, there was no crisis in the South China Sea. This policy changed in 2013 when Xi Jinping became president. He began a policy known as “peripheral diplomacy” or “neighborhood diplomacy.” Its stated goal was to turn China’s neighborhood areas into a “community of common destiny”. Publicly, this “common destiny” would be inclusive and win-win cooperation. However, this “ neighborhood of common destiny” was and is bound to be dominated by the sole superpower in the region. It also seemed to be designed to integrate neighboring countries into a Sino-centric network of economic, political cultural, and security relations. Some observer compare this to the tributary system of Imperial China.

China has been asserting its influence through its infrastructure lending program and by flexing its military muscle especially in the South China Sea.

Several news reports have shown that China’s economic influence has generated unease with several countries in the region like Malaysia, Pakistan and the Maldives. Concerns have grown over contract terms, corruption and possible debt traps exemplified by Chinese investment in the Hambantota International Port in Sri Lanka. In the Malaysian elections last year, former Prime Minister Mahathir defeated Najib Razak, in part, by openly campaigning against Chinese influence. He then cancelled a $20 billion railway project funded by China, called the East Coast Rail Link, citing his inability to pay. But now Malaysia has renegotiated with Beijing, reduced the cost by about a third and the project is back on.

Indonesia is another example. It aims to channel multi billion BRI investments into four economic corridors – North Sumatra, North Kalimantan, North Sulawesi, and Bali. Before projects can move forward, however, the Indonesian government is now requiring Chinese investors to comply with four conditions: utilize environmentally friendly technologies, maximize the use of local labor, transfer technological knowledge to local investors; and create added value for upstream and downstream industries in Indonesia.

The increasing rivalry between China and the United States is posing a major geopolitical problem for most ASEAN countries who do not want to take any side in this rivalry. In a speech last May, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong encouraged Washington and Beijing to work together, reconcile their differences and refrain from creating conditions that will force countries to choose between the two superpowers. While he acknowledged that it is natural for China to aspire to become a maritime power, he said China should resolve maritime disputes in accordance with international law rather than by force or the threat of force. He also warned that China’s Belt and Road Initiative should bring long term benefits to the countries in the region and does not turn the region “ into a closed bloc centered on single major economy.”

Trump has adopted a policy of trying to force US companies to leave China. The current trade war has already resulted in more than 50 companies leaving China.This is the greatest challenge for ASEAN countries who would prefer not to choose sides.

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on October 19 (1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone session) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration, email