Understanding how the Philippines sees the US and China. They’re different.

“A Philippine Marine and U.S. military official inspect a new M4 carbine during a weapons and equipment delivery from the Joint U.S. Military Assistance Group as part of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ defense modernization efforts and a U.S. government grant program aimed at assisting Philippine security forces conducting counterterrorism operations.” [2017, US Embassy in PH]

Analysis and Opinion

By Joe America

It is common to broadly paint Philippine alliances with China and the United States as competitive or similar. They are not, and my goal here is to explain the difference. You can add your views in the discussion section of the blog.

The Philippines has three strong associations with the United States:

  1. Commercial, where US companies operate, buy, sell, and otherwise take up business in the Philippines, or in the US for export to the Philippines, or between countries where tourists travel happily.
  2. Military, where the two countries have mutual agreements, each to defend the other, and where joint training is undertaken, US military gear is sold or gifted to the Philippines, and joint anti-terrorist operations are undertaken (Mamasapano).
  3. Employment and living, where some 3,500,000 Filipinos live or work in the United States, and many Americans live and work in the Philippines.

The Philippines has only one strong association with China:

  1. Commercial, where Chinese companies operate, buy, sell, and otherwise take up business in the Philippines, or in China for export to the Philippines, or between countries where Chinese tourists enjoy Philippine beaches.

Military? No, no. It is hard to have a military relationship with a nation that chases your fishermen out of your own waters or aims targeting radar at your military vessels. A Chinese Coast Guard vessel paid a good will visit to the Philippines a few months ago, stirring up a lot of criticism from Filipinos. China will not come to the military aid of the Philippines against … against … against, whom, exactly? The Philippines has no adversarial relationships with any nation other than China.

Employment and living? No, not really. Hong Kong is a labor market for Filipinos and we’ll see how that holds up as HK loses her autonomy in the coming months. Mainland China is not a significant labor market for Filipinos and few Filipinos reside there. The Mainlanders coming to the Philippines are primarily employees of the Pogo gambling houses, they don’t mix, they set up their own shopping areas and medical clinics, and they don’t really seek to endear themselves to Filipinos.

The US does. The US is generous with aid and assistance in storms, China does almost nothing. The American Embassy is engaged in many activities in the Philippines. The Chinese Embassy re-writes the scrips of government officials on Chinese affairs.

The two countries, in the eyes of Philippine leaders, are very, very different. Filipino leaders, prominently President Duterte and his loyal aide Senator Bong Go, support the new Chinese private ventures in the Philippines. Their associate Dennis Uy’s businesses have gained a lot from Chinese investments, and there is undoubtedly financial advantage flowing to Duterte and Go to keep these investments coming into the Philippines.

Indeed, New Clark City is developing as a kind of “New Beijing City” in the Philippines. Dennis Uy runs the busineses and former PDEA head Aaron Aquino will run nearby Clark International Airport. It is also in this area where underground COVID19 medical clinics were (are?) operating.

But this is private. This is between oligarchs. The Chinese government does not even like the Pogos. Of course it’s nice for China to have China Telecom embedded in the Philippines, in association with Dennis Uy. But, really, it’s just business.

China the Nation’s main interest in the Philippines is resources and markets. China is not interested in helping Filipinos at all, from all indications. It’s a one-way ticket to ride.

So we should be perfectly clear. There is no competition in the Philippines between China and the United States. No similarities.

The security, independence, and well-being of the Philippines rides with the United States and other regional partners. It does not ride with China.

China is for private profit.


11 Responses to “Understanding how the Philippines sees the US and China. They’re different.”
  1. Jonathan E. Sy says:

    There’s a fourth one, Sir: Cultural. Soft power diplomacy. Sports. Literature. Music. TV. Movies. Science and research.

    Drunken masters and Iron Men learn a thing or two along the way. Wolf warriors don’t learn squat.

  2. Pablo says:

    I wonder if you maybe missed the most important “Link to China”: People with a Chinese background in Philippines.
    Even third generation “Chinese-Filipino’s” stay Chinese in behavior, training, business, philosophy and family. And they see this as “necessary”. Bluntly stated, they believe that this is the only solution for Philippines “because they cannot do it themselves” (not mine, but straight from the horse’s mouth!).
    These people sincerely think they do a good thing by taking over businesses. Why do you think, they have groups of business people limited to people with Chinese background? Second & third generation, still exclusive groups. Maybe indeed, they are right and the Filipino’s cannot do it by themselves. This sounds sarcastic, but almost all businesses are owned by people with a pure Chinese or Spanish background. Mostly Chinese, right? And where do you think this will lead to? Look to the area’s where China infiltrated by sending their nationals to take over the countries.
    There are many Filipino’s in the US, Europe…. Everywhere in the world you meet loads of Filipino’s, trying to make an honest living because at home, this is not possible. And while the original Filipino’s are working abroad (often for a pittance), supporting the economy to a large extend, it is the Chinese who gradually extend their power in the country. And very, very profitable. I am at the moment stuck in Africa because of the virus and I am continuously amazed how expensive Philippines had become over the past 20 years and how other countries managed to keep prices reasonable. Maybe it has something to do with a kind of organised monopolies in Philippines? Maybe corruption, but there is loads of corruption where I am right now, so…..
    First it was the economic power determining the actions, now it slowly percolates into the political arena with the justification that the second and third generation are not immigrants anymore….

    Your point of “Private Profit” is merely a symptom of the trend. Bribes are used to gain access to the economy. Chinese use this tactics everywhere, I see it in Africa, Bangladesh etc.
    And now with Europe and the America’s during the Corona crisis, many of their shares suddenly change into Chinese hands.
    Slowly, slowly all critical area’s are taken over in Philippines. Power to a large extend (all new coal plants are Chinese, takeover of the Lopez distribution systems), now the takeover of the telecom is slowly happening, harbors… Just look at Uy’s portfolio and you will see a strategically opportunistic takeover. Why be surprised? Is it not a stated objective of the New Silk Road initiative?

    Joe, I wonder if this should not have been point number ONE. It is going on for many years now. You have to admire the Chinese people for their consistency and persistence and making use of all opportunities open to them while the rest is sleeping. The drop hollowing out the stone.
    Personally, I think this should have been your point number-1.

    • Chinese Filipino citizens consider themselves Filipino and act that way as far as I can tell. They run big businesses responsibly, lawfully, and profitably. They don’t appear to take commissions to give China preferences. I would not know how to relate their heritage to today’s mainlanders, although Irineo might. Including that matter would muddy the point I wanted to make about the US vs China.

      • Pablo says:

        Thanks Joe for your opinion.
        I realize that my opinion could be seen as muddying the point, but you wanted to compare the relations of Philippines and America/China.
        In my opinion, if you do this honestly, the comparison boils down to:
        Relation with America: Short term business relations with military interest possibly defending the business interests by impressing (threatening) opponents.
        Relation with China: Long term political dominance preventing to have to use military intervention to achieve the objective.

        Your arguments: Chinese Filipino citizens consider themselves Filipino and act that way? Third generation predominantly visiting Chinese schools? Have you ever visited the Chinese business organizations? Interesting to see how the members help each other.. Nothing bad, but it is exclusive. Third generation still having tight ties with their families on the mainland? The words I quoted came unprovoked from Chinese-Filipino’s.

        All-in-all maybe not a bad situation for Philippines, probably it is a natural way how the strongest parties influence a country. Very similar to the melting pot in America. But consider how fast immigrants in the US have assimilated to full-blooded Americans and compare that to the Filipino situation. And let’s not forget the publicly stated objectives of the neighbor.
        It is just an observation where Philippines probably will be going to and what Americans can expect if they would take a long term view. It will surprise all of “us” if we let this process continue unchallenged.

        • Your opinion does not muddy anything, and raises an important point (which I have blogged about in the past). It’s just that in this blog, I had a different purpose, so wanted to explain that. I do think there will be a new ethnic Chinese community rising in Manila, or more correctly to the East around New Clark City. It will be more self-contained than the current Chinese community, will eventually blend and come together as the character of the Philippine’s dominant class along the lines of the old Singapore. Chinese centric in the leadership and business community.

      • kasambahay says:

        joeam, I’m reminded that ex pres aquino is of chinese heritage, his ancestors come from south china and when the chinese tried to instill in aquino, so soon after he become president, a closer relations to his chinese ancestors, aquino politely declined and said he is filipino in thought in words and in deed, and that may have angered the chinese.

        aquino did not fall into the ancestry trick, but duterte did and become boastful of his chinese ancestry, giving more and more preferences to mainlander chinese and virtually accede our country to china.

        as for filipino chinese keeping to themselves, there is always chinatown in every big cities in the world. germans have their own enclaves too, as well as jews, swedes, fins, filipinos, greeks and their yearly panyiri festivals outside of greece, etc.

        at one stage, filipinos grouping in hongkong has gotten exponential that hongkongers were alarmed and tried to limit the group. on weekends and on their day offs, filipinos occupied parks in hongkong, speaking their own language, eating their own food and sharing news from home. there is comfort in commonality.

        • I never saw his disputes with his uncles as being along ethnic lines, but “values” where they were in it to win it for themselves and he was in it to honor his mother and father. President Aquino seems typical of the Filipino orientation of most Chinese-Filipino residents of several generations here. Yes, there are Chinatowns everywhere, and other ethnic gatherings of residents and businesses. Los Angeles is about as good as it gets for this, and Angelenos move freely between and among the little ethnic bubbles partaking of the cuisine or dancing. Hahaha, I’m trying to recall all the ethnicities of the women I dated over the years, and truly, Los Angeles is a global community, living in harmony under democracy’s protective umbrella. Mostly harmony anyway.

    • NHerrera says:

      Perhaps the term commercial among the three associations used to describe the relationship — commercial, military, employment and living — has an unstated strategic component in it. That is, whether it relates to the US or China.

      The blog, I believe, emphasized, to which I agree, that there are more elements in the US’ association with the PH that serves the Filipinos; and not only the narrow and essentially self-serving elements in China’s association with PH. But that is because China has been allowed to do it with less difficulty, if I may add. Handed to China in a silver platter.

      • kasambahay says:

        there were threats of war po, china certainly did not make it easy for our current govt. few times na that duterte said he was threatened and duly said he cannot go to war with china and so, acquiesce; for peace. china have big guns kuno, silly man thinks only of war being fought with guns. we fought china on legal ground and won.

        china has since escalated and been greedily grabbing one silver platter after another.

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  1. […] the reason for the pivot to China. China the cronies was the reason (see background article “How the Philippines sees the US and China; they’re different“): business interests for Dennis Uy’s New Clark City, investments in Davao (legal and […]

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