I did wonder why the Greeks scheduled their historic referendum on harsh austerity measures being imposed by their European creditors on a Sunday, of all days.
I recall that famous song which has become some kind of a popular anthem for the ancient republic—Never on Sunday. It was the theme song of an old movie starring Melina Mercouri, a Greek national treasure.
The results of Sunday’s referendum stunned the world. Sixty-one percent of Greeks voted “No” to the reform package hammered out by European central bankers largely under the tutelage of its strongest economy, Angela Merkel’s Germany. The vote put a lie to earlier polls which suggested a very tight race between those who would accept more austerity for a population long suffering from recession and financial crisis, and those who could stomach no more, even at the risk of a possible departure from the European Union.
Both Greece and Europe are now at crossroads. A weakening European economy is further pressured by its population to stop pouring more assistance to the ailing Greek economy. And an angry Greek population has pushed the button for further uncertainty and deepening economic crisis.
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Over dinner a week before, Davao City’s Rodrigo Duterte told us of possible tectonic shifts in the world’s balance of power.
“Watch what happens in Greece,” the mayor said. “If the Greeks vote against the austerity package, Europe will find it difficult to convince member-nations to extend further financial concessions.”
“Where will (Prime Minister Alexis) Tsipras go?” Duterte asked, and then answered his own question: “China is waiting on the wings.”
“With its huge financial reserves and political resolve, China could buy out the Greek debt, and give the country a breathing spell of say, 15 years, extending highly concessional arrangements. This offer of help, which the Russians could match with loans denominated in oil and gas, which they have plenty of, could then drive the Greeks out of the European Union, off the Euro currency, and China will have a new power center in Europe,” Duterte predicts.
“Already the Chinese are all over the place, using their newfound economic advantage in Latin America and Africa. And now in Europe,” the mayor added.
Days before, he amplified over these geo-political and international economic developments before the Asian CEO Forum held at the New Diamond Residences in Greenbelt, Makati, where once again he denied any presidential plans. The CEOs, including representatives of major embassies such as the US, European Union, Japan, Australia and Belgium, were listening intently as the mayor from a southern city known largely for his tough anti-crime measures, perorated with deep knowledge on international matters.
“The world is changing, and the traditional fulcrums of power are shifting,” Duterte told this writer and others over dinner in Davao Monday last week, and “we Filipinos must be aware and attuned to it.”
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In The Hague this week, the legal team retained by the Philippine Government, Foley Hoag LLP, will argue for the UN arbitral tribunal to accept jurisdiction over its complaint against China’s incursion into our territorial waters.
China has refused to recognize the jurisdiction of the international court, insisting on its “sovereignty” over the South China Sea on the basis of its “nine-dash line” geographic assertion.
If the UN arbiters at Den Haag decide they have no jurisdiction, that is the end of the legal line for the Philippines. We cannot even advance the merits of our case. And China will simply ignore whatever protests we do.
Our officialdom hopes the UN arbitral tribunal would accept jurisdiction, so that at the very least, the onus of international opinion would weigh against the Chinese, who however, just may not budge regardless.
This week, the country skates on thin ice in unusually warm Europe.