The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) and the Office of Strategic and Strategy Management of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (OSSM-AFP)co-organized a Mabini Dialogue entitled “China’s New Silk Road Strategy: Challenges and Opportunities for the Philippines” on 10 February 2015 at the AFP Commissioned Officers Clubhouse, Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. The guest speakerwas Mr. Chito Sta. Romana, President of the Philippine Association for Chinese Studies (PACS) and former China correspondent for ABC News (USA).
In his presentation, Mr. Romana explained how the New Silk Road– comprised of the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road – is patterned after the ancient land and maritime routes that connected Asian civilizations with the rest of the world.China seeks to revive this idea by investing in infrastructure and connectivity projects, enhancing trade and currency cooperation, and strengthening people-to-people exchanges with its neighbors.The NSR aims to promote economic development in the region while also opening up new markets for Chinese products.
Mr. Sto. Romana also discussed how the New Silk Road fits into China’s broader foreign policy objectives and strategies. Through economic incentives and soft power tools, China seeks to improve its relations with its neighbors, including the other claimant parties in the South China Sea. He also added that the New Silk Road allows China to demonstrate its commitment to a path of peaceful development.
However, Mr. Sta. Romana also explained that ‘good neighbor relations’ is only one of the two dominant aspects of current Chinese foreign policy, with the other being the ‘defense of core interests’ or taking a non-compromising position on issues of national sovereignty and territorial integrity. This means that while China will encourage its neighbors, including the Philippines, to become part of its new regional initiatives, it will still maintain its assertiveness on territorial and maritime disputes in the East and South China Seas through the construction of artificial islands and expansion of its military presence in the area.
He also pointed out that while the New Silk Road is primarily an economic endeavor, it is also motivated by strategic and geopolitical considerations. It is seen as China’s response to what it perceives as the US’ strategy of encirclement and containment through its ‘rebalancing to Asia’ program. However, Mr. Sta. Romana explained that a China-US conflict remains unlikely, as the bilateral relations are still dominated by cooperation rather than competition.
Mr. Sta. Romana concluded that while there are clear economic opportunities that the New Silk Road can bring to the region, countries should still carefully weigh in the advantages and disadvantages before joining.He added that the Philippines should decide on the basis of national interests while maintaining a principled position on territorial and maritime disputes.
Officials and staff of the AFP, representatives from government agencies, and members of the diplomatic corps and the academe were present during the lecture.