Learning from China and America: Continuity and Change

A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva

The Bohol Chronicle

November 18, 2012

Contrasting selection of top leaders. On November 6 the world watched the dramatic reelection of U.S. President Barack Obama’s in the open two-party, quadrennial presidential election in America. Then this week the world witnessed the closed, customary ten-year change in China’s top leadership: from Hu Jentao to Xi Jinping in the Chinese Communist Party at its 18th National Congress.

          The contrast in the political systems of the world’s two superpowers, as shown by the selection of their top leadership, could not be sharper and more fascinating. And they have worldwide implications. So we, Filipinos, cannot be just curious watchers. For we have much to learn from, and we are to be directly affected by the two political events.

          Learning from the Americans. We, Filipinos, were shown how a two-party democratic system works. How American citizens identify with the Democratic Party or the Republican Party as members or supporters. How they participate in the open and competitive process of selecting their presidential candidates. How the candidates define and defend their own and their party’s position on specific issues and problems. How they conduct their campaign and elections.  In our  column last week I described how very differently Filipino presidential candidates are selected, and how our voters choose whom to vote for among them.

          Learning from the Chinese. Led by Mao Tse Tung, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) waged a protracted bloody revolution that finally united the world’s most populous nation by 1949. For centuries China had been divided and weak and bullied by imperialist nations, especially Japan.

Under the CCP, Deng Shao Peng and his successors, China developed its economy so rapidly to become the world’s second richest and most powerful. Having united the nation and achieved phenomenal economic and social development under the monolithic CCP, the Chinese are justified in maintaining its 63-year one-party monopoly of power.

But Xi Jinping has acknowledged that the nation faces daunting challenges that the CCP must address in preserving its primacy and power. One of them is  corruption in governance and excessive bureaucracy—the emphasis on formalities. People want transparency. Another challenge is for government to be more in touch with the people in fighting for a better life. Amid income inequalities some are complaining about their poverty. Others are concerned about the worsening environment. In some places there is rising unrest among increasingly assertive citizens. Jin Ping also observed that “The world has a lot to learn from China, and China has a lot to learn from the world.”

Indeed, Filipinos have so much to learn from the Chinese. From the way they have unified their long divided and impoverished nation. From their strong national identity and nationalism in their determination and skills and sense of urgency in building their nation-state and their economy and society at such a rapid pace.

China’s relations with her neighbors. Since China had suffered in her iniquitous relations with imperialist powers and overcome them, her neighbors in East Asia that had emerged from Western and Japanese colonization had hoped that China would be benevolent in her relations with them. Especially because a new world order under the United Nations is in place.

Instead, in respect of their territorial rights in the South China Sea, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia, individually and together in ASEAN, find China to be aggressive and unfair as their fellow Asian and a superpower. Understandably, as an economic superpower, China wants to be militarily strong as well. But this also deepens her neighbors’ concern.

The Philippines wants to maintain friendly and mutually beneficial relations with the People’s Republic of China as a neighbor with whom Filipinos have had very long trading relations. We do share a large ethnicity and affinity with the Chinese at home and in their homeland.

America’s place and relations in the West Pacific. President Obama has emphasized that the United States is a Pacific nation as well. She will ensure safe international passage in the South China Seaand help maintain the security of friendly Asian states, as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Even as the Philippines wants to have good relations with the People’s Republic of China as fellow Asians, Filipinos must also ensure their state’s security and their human security (our people’s freedom from fear and freedom from want). We ensure our national security and our human security by our own efforts and by our relations with trustworthy allies.

We recognize that we are a Global Filipino Nation consisting of 95 million in the homeland and counting, and some ten more millions overseas, including some 2.3 million in the United States alone. As we have noted, significant numbers of them are availing themselves of the Absentee Voting Law and the Dual Citizenship Law to enable them to directly participate in our politics, governance, and democratization. Learning from American democracy, our Filipino-Americans have much to contribute to our development in the homeland.

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