WITH MODESTO P. SA-ONOY
The Chinese and our standoff with one of the two most populous countries in the world have been in the news for weeks now. One thing that emerges is the view that the Chinese are trying to bully us to admit that the Scarborough Shoal is theirs and we are intruders. One Chinese general, a warmonger it seems, calls for war to put an end to the issue.
Of course this warmonger knows pretty well we are in no position to fight them militarily despite the assurances of our Defense Department whose naval force sailed away from Chinese fishing boats.
President Aquino explains this move as an effort to ease tensions, but the Chinese interpreted this as our fear of their naval strength.
War is not the solution but diplomacy. What else can we do as a small nation? It appears however that we are alone. Not even the United Stated with whom we have a mutual defense treaty is willing to take our side or their side – it stands neutral which is understandable because China has plenty of investments in the US and America owes China billions of dollars and engaged in billions of dollars in business.
Our other ASEAN neighbors, also claimants to the islands, are quiet as if they just want to test the Chinese determination at our expense.
Our relations with China need not deteriorate because, since the beginning of our written history, we had always had good relations with China. We traded in the most honest way, the Chinese traders were constantly conscious of our honesty that they would leave their goods with our people and collect payment after a year or so.
They even sold “white silk parasol which the dignitaries (native) used”. This is the reason that even in our dances the parasol or umbrella has becomes part of the costume or backdrop.
A Chinese historian Chao Hu Kua wrote in 1125 that when Chinese junks came to these islands the natives would go on board “mixing merrily in friendly fashion with the foreigners as brothers and sisters” that is, with the Chinese traders.
When the Shri-Visayan and Madjapahit empires expanded their sovereignty over our islands the Chinese slowed down their trade with us because these two empires were strong.
However, when the strength of these two empires began to ebb by the beginning of the 15th century, the Chinese resumed their relations with us, in fact to consolidate their economic foothold in these islands Ming Emperor Yung Lo sent a war mission to Luzon in 1404 and established Chinese sovereignty here.
I suspect that the Chinese claim citing ancient records could be due to this expansion that covered Luzon and neighboring islands where China claimed to be part of their empire. The Scarborough was part of its domain.
However, Yung Lo died in 1424 before he could consolidate China’s imperial claim although Chinese traders continued to come and traded with the natives all the way to the Spanish colonization.
When the Spaniards occupied Manila in 1571, they found 150 Chinese males married to native women but when business in the new colony expanded, more Chinese came and by 1586 the number of Chinese had grown to 4,000 in Manila alone with hundreds more in the provinces.
Most of them were married to native women but many more were itinerant merchants. They went home half the year and back by the other half with their goods. By the end of the 16th century they had increased in Manila to 15,000 and in five years, their number reached 26,000.
On the other hand there were only about 800 Spaniards and Mexican creoles mostly government functionaries, landlords, soldiers and sailors and missionaries, hardly were there Spanish and Mexican businessmen or traders.
Their number alarmed the Spanish government. The Spaniards were apprehensive that the Chinese were not here for trading alone. The Spaniards looked at the Chinese as hostile. In 1570, after Miguel Lopez de Legaspi claimed Spanish sovereignty over the Philippines and occupied Manila, the Spanish ships encountered a group of Chinese traders in Mindoro and killed 20 of them.
In 1574, a Chinese warlord named Limahong attacked Manila but was repulsed and he fled to Pangasinan where he established his domain until he was expelled by Spanish forces.
The Viceroy of Fukien came to the Philippines after Limahong to establish friendly relations but this attempt failed, a case of misunderstanding and a difference of culture.
There were, therefore attempts by ancient China to lay claim to the Philippines but for the occupation of the Philippines by Spain.
Through the years the Spanish government had taken an ambivalent attitude towards the Chinese in the Philippines. There were times of programs and times when the government invited Chinese skilled workers to come. The uneasy relationship remains to this day.*
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