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Bicol in the midst of US-China Rift

The world is increasingly polarized: within societies, by social divisions such as income and economic inequalities; among countries, geopolitical power struggles over territories, trade, and commerce to control. Polarization can be good for countries to serve common interests and wrong if it leans toward extreme ideological wars.

With the growing tension in the West Philippine Sea, some political observers say the war between the US and China is imminent. Issues of defense of sovereignty and territorial integrity have largely accentuated US-China-Philippines relations since the infamous Panatag Shoal naval standoff in 2012. During the last elections, the US-China rift resurrected Cold War biases. “If you are not with us, then you are with them,” a political caveat went. Haven’t we learned from the mistakes and tragedies of the Cold War?

The US-China face-off in the WPS has ignited a world of debates and discourse, sometimes bordering on trivia and occasionally emotional. In one of my TBM sojourns in Albay with the Mariners – CHEd Social Enterprises Development (SED) project team - I asked a few community leaders who were all in the middle of coping with the Pandemic losses and the continuing threat of volcanic eruption.

“What is it to us” (anu pakialam ko dyan), asked Nathan, a boatmaker from the island of Rapu Rapu, Alba, and in unison, “focus muna kami sa pagtanim,” from Ralph, a youth leader into organic farming in Lidong, and a sigh, “Hay, wag naman gyera,” from Manay Claring, a quarrying worker in Fidel Surtida, both barangays in Sto. Domingo, a fourth class municipality within the 7-radius of the Mayon Volcano permanent danger zone.

Sakit ng kalingkingan, sakit ng buong katawan. We live not in isolation but in a community. If war breaks out, the country will call in its young students, now required to join the ROTC, to battle. Even Bicol will engage far from Masinloc, Zambales, and the WPS borders. But building relations for harmony, peace, and mutual desire for inclusive and people-centered development is generally the way to go for a better world to live in.

Philippines-China relations have lately been dominated by the territorial disputes in the WPS, which have escalated and aggravated increasingly with incidents of face-to-face standoffs. Resurrecting the old era of the Cold War during these new times of the modern world of technology, AI, TikTok is an organized mess, an oxymoron at the highest level.

For most Filipinos, including Nathan and Manay Claring in Bicol, the current heated exchanges between America and China divert people’s attention from the real problems happening on the ground. Nathan adds that is history and “para sa kuya, sisay maggana, ok lang basta igwang progreso sa satuya,” (For me, whoever wins, OK as long as there is progress for us.”). Sana magtulungan na lang, he says as if in prayer.

For more than 15 years, I served as the executive director of a policy study center. Internationally renowned experts and scholars in geopolitics, public governance, studies in corruption and integrity, international finance and economics, development and strategic policy, media, and culture make up its Board of Directors. Together with its stable scholars and expert Fellows, the Center for People Empowerment in Governance, or CenPEG, has been a credible and reliable source of timely political analyses and studies. To this day, I continue to draw rich insights from the Center’s studies and discourses.

Let us see the current data and discover the realities outside as they connect and impact our daily lives. Next to colonial Spain, our closest historical and cultural ties are with US and China. How would the US-China rift, in its various dimensions, impact us as the local domestic players or stakeholders - MSMEs, our seafarers and maritime industry, tourism, manufacturing, health, education, and agriculture identified as key sectors in the regional development plan for over-all Bicol development?

Global realities

From international data centers, what is the comparative global standing of the top superpowers US, China, Japan, India, and Germany? The following data reveal an exciting find:

By 2075, the world’s biggest economies, projected by Goldman Sachs, are China: $57 trillion; India: $52.5 trillion; United States: $51.5 trillion; Euro area: $30.3 trillion and Japan: $7.5 trillion in that order. In terms of world population by 2100, the United Nations says India will top China, which comes second, then followed by Nigeria, Pakistan, Congo US, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Tanzania, Egypt, Brazil, and the Philippines.

Goldman Sachs and the World Bank predict China will overtake the US by 2035 as the largest economy, India second, and the US down as third. Studies show that US farmers have become highly dependent on the Chinese market! The Australian Strategic Policy Institute puts Chinese researchers ahead of Americans in 37 of 44 technologies examined across defense, space, robotics, energy, environment, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, advanced materials, and quantum technology.

The US-China rift should not dwell on war. A friendly competition? Yes, Bicol and the whole country should undoubtedly benefit from it.


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