“The whole world is now watching what China and Xi will do next. And accordingly, how the US of A would react”
This columnist extends profound condolences to the family and legion of admirers and friends of the late President Fidel Valdez Ramos, in my book one of the best presidents the nation has had the fortune of having.
The Chinese “ghost month” began on the 29th of July, two days after the strong Ilocos earthquake, and FVR peacefully left this mortal world and his beloved country on Sunday, the news of his passing coming out right after I had submitted my article for Monday.
When my initial candidate for president, then Chief Justice Marcelo B. Fernan, decided to go for the vice-presidency instead, he asked me to make a choice between FVR and then Speaker Ramon V. Mitra.
I advised him to go for Mitra, and thus did I become the spokesperson for the ill-fated Mitra-Fernan tandem.
Still, despite his very slim 23.58 percent victory, FVR immediately began to reach out to his rivals, earnestly sought to unify the country, and during the 1995 mid-term elections, he coalesced his ruling Lakas with the LDP of the Mitra-Fernan tandem, prevailing upon the two to run for the Senate.
I helped my good friend Celing Fernan midway through the campaign period, at the height of the Flor Contemplacion incident.
Fernan made it, but Tata Monching failed to win a seat in the Senate.
Through the six years of his presidency, FVR steered the country towards peace and stability, deregulated the financial and telecommunications sectors, among others, and led the economy to greater heights.
In 1997, he was the final speaker in the Mindanao Business Conference jointly sponsored by the country’s major chambers of commerce. As Butuan City was the host, and I was a vice president of the local chapter of the PCCI, I also became the program director.
At the end of FVR’s speech, I asked the audience, pillars of the business and political communities of Mindanao, to give the man whom I described as one “who had done more for Mindanao than most of his predecessors in office” a standing ovation.
PFVR was most appreciative, and that started a friendship which has lasted through the years, and he was among the first to congratulate me, sending his latest autographed books, when President Duterte appointed me to be Chairman and Resident Representative of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taiwan on June 30, 2016.
PFVR and the late Sen. Letty Ramos Shahani were staunch advocates of stronger relations with Taiwan, a legacy from their father, who was the last Philippine ambassador, and first MECO resident representative to Taiwan.
Taiwanese officials describe FVR as their BFF (“best friend forever”) in the Philippines, and rightly so.
Today, the MECO office in Neihu, Taipei, will open a book of condolence in memory of a Filipino patriot, statesman, gentleman-officer, and leader with few equals.
Hail and farewell, President Fidel Valdez Ramos!
Today is also a most precarious day for the island nation and its 23 million inhabitants.
At a quarter before eleven last night, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Air Force plane landed at Songshan airport in the heart of Taipei, a military facility also used for domestic and regional flights to Japan, at the start of a short but most controversial visit, the first in 25 years by America’s number three top leader.
She was met by Joseph Wu, for the last six years, Taiwan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the newly-designated head of the Asian Institute in Taiwan, Sandra Oudkirk.
From Songshan, Pelosi and her delegation of five other congressmen went on a heavily-secured motorcade to the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Taipei’s Xinyi District, where she was welcomed through an electronic billboard in Taipei’s iconic 101 Tower beside the hotel.
As we write this column, she is in a huddle with Pres. Tsai Ing-wen, and will leave after lunch at the Taipei Guest House, proceeding to Japan and South Korea, after one-day visits each to Singapore and Malaysia.
Speaker Pelosi prefaced her Taiwan visit with a statement describing the moment as “America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant democracy…as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”
That was quite provocative, rubbing it in, as Beijing had repeatedly dissuaded her and the US government from proceeding with her visit.
Xi Ji-ping himself warned Joe Biden in a zoom face-off last week about “serious consequences” should the visit push through.
In a succeeding interview, Biden mumbled something about the US military being against the Pelosi visit.
But his national security spokesman John Kirby stated that since the US is a representative democracy with separation of powers enshrined in its fundamental law, Pelosi could go wherever she pleased.
Such pusillanimous tip-toeing is not acceptable to China, least of all to Xi, who will face the party congress in October, where repeatedly through the years he has vowed “unification” with Taiwan, not ruling out force if necessary.
Didn’t they say Xi is a dictator, and China’s Communist-run government is an autocracy?
What would convince China to believe that the Democrat Biden cannot prevail over the Democrat Pelosi?
In the Oriental ethic, most of all China and even Japan, “face” is most important.
They can lose money, which while high in their pantheon of values, can be recovered, but they will not abide a loss of face.
Thus it was that live military drills in the Taiwan Strait, supposedly to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army, were heightened yesterday and even today, along the narrow strait dividing the island from the mainland, in the East China Sea and mid-Pacific which straddles Japan’s Okinawa, and in our very close Balintang Channel, which the Chinese call Bashi.
PRC jets flew closest to Taiwan’s air perimeter.
Batanes is a mere 276 kilometers south of Pingtung in southernmost Taiwan, while Fujian province in the mainland is a mere 161 kilometers away.
In fact, Taiwan’s Kinmen (Quemoy) is a mere 28.2 kilometers from Xiamen (Amoy), shorter than the distance between Cavite and Corregidor, let alone Manila and the once-fortress island, which is 49.5 kilometers across Manila Bay.
The whole world is now watching what China and Xi will do next. And accordingly, how the US of A would react.
“Si vis pacem, para bellum,”, the Roman military writer Flavius Vegetius Renatus famously stated. If you want peace, prepare for war.
These are the days when our region and the whole world are watching nervously, if China’s para bellum can escalate further, or if Biden and Pelosi’s “dedication” to “strategic ambiguity” and the preservation of the status quo will work out peace in our time.
For sure, China will escalate economic pressure on Taiwan.
In 2020, they banned the export of sweet “Formosa” pineapples, one of their biggest food imports from Taiwan.
This was followed by another major Taiwan export to Hong Kong, Shanghai and Guangzhou — live groupers or lapu-lapu.
Now, more than 100 food exporters, even purveyors of pastries, biscuits, snacks, including those of I-Mei, Taiwan’s largest bakery and confectioner, which employs mostly Filipino migrant workers, have been banned from China.
But the Chinese economy is also quite dependent on Taiwan’s semi-conductor industry, the world’s largest, which supplies almost every product from computers to cellphones to automotive to household appliances of every kind.
Since Trump, America has been coaxing TSMC, the world’s largest, to transfer facilities to Wisconsin and Arizona, but things are not as hunky-dory for the Taiwanese firm, because of labor unions and other American not-too-business-friendly restrictions.
(TSMC was considering to put up a huge facility beside Ramon Ang’s Bulacan airport, but that’s another story).
This economic interdependence between the mainland and it’s claimed province is a major factor in keeping the peace and postponing Xi-Jinping’s desideratum of unification.
As for the US of A, facing imminent economic recession months away from crucial mid-term elections, would provoking war be the solution to economic woes?
They have had a long history of such, and so has their major European ally, Germany, in the dark days of the Third Reich, or Japan in the Pacific theater after economic sanctions.
Biden has struck political gold in the recent precision killing of Osama bin Laden’s successor Al Zawahiri in Afghanistan, just as, together with NATO, it is still struck in the quicksand that is Ukraine versus Russia.
We are all in tenterhooks as we watch these military and geo-political developments in the region where we are the most proximate.
In the lunar calendar’s ghost month, the ghosts came marching in quick succession, and early.