"The inevitable has dawned upon us."
It was Napoleon Bonaparte, the emperor of France who conquered most of Europe in his prime, who said “let China sleep, for when she awakes, the whole world will tremble.”
Decades later, several European countries and Great Britain carved out for themselves special territories of China, humiliating the Chinese people and the dynasty overlords. This “conquest” of China was preceded by the Opium Wars involving the Qing Dynasty and Great Britain.
The wars were over the trade of opium, that narcotic grown in the jungles of Burma and parts of the Middle East then under the British. The defeats of China and the forcible leases of territory to Britain and European nations weakened the Qing Dynasty while harboring deep resentment upon both the “gwailou” or foreigners as well as the weak and subservient leadership.
The twentieth century which saw the Philippines proclaiming independence over Spain only to be fooled by the new American colonialists also saw the birth of a revolutionary China. First by the nationalists under Dr. Sun Yat Sen, till now revered in the pantheon of Chinese revolutionary heroes, and later, the Communist takeover.
But this was not the epoch Napoleon must have dreamed of.
Instead, upon the death of Mao-Zedong, China’s Politburo decided upon a tectonic shift in the nature of power. From political power, the focus became economic power, led by Deng Xiaoping. And in an amazing generation and a half, China has become the world’s second biggest economy, dislodging its “enemy” to the east, Japan, and is predicted to be the world’s largest in another 20 years or sooner.
China has awakened, and the rest of the world, particularly the West, has begun to tremble.
Historians record an era called Pax Brittanica, after England defeated the Spanish armada and colonized most of the world where in boast they presided over an “empire where the sun never sets.”
After a century, their former colony, the United States of America whose size and resources dwarfed England and upon which the brightest minds of Europe and the rest of the world immigrated to build a nation, became the 20th century’s largest political, military and economic power, ushering in what is now known as Pax Americana.
But as the 20th century ended, and after the British handed over leased Hong Kong and the New Territories back to China soon after Portugal surrendered Macau, the “sleeping” nation flexed its muscles so quickly that before anyone realized, it has awakened.
Right from the start of his amazing presidential victory, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, for an entire generation Davao City’s undisputed leader, defined Philippine foreign policy as one of true independence, as, in the description of his former foreign secretary, Alan Peter Cayetano, “friend to all and enemy to none.”
But in so doing, Duterte opened up to our neighbor to the west, China, whose friendship he embraced like a long-lost cousin, to the chagrin of most America-focused Filipinos.
Meanwhile, he excoriated the long-held allies’—America, Europe, Canada and Australia and even the United Nations—leadership for condemning his war on drugs as an affront to human rights, labeling their intervention as an intrusion into sovereignty.
Today, America under Donald Trump is acting like a racist, ultra-nationalistic, some say even jingoistic brat even against its neighbors and long-time allies, Canada and Mexico. And Europe is reeling under the combined onslaught of unwanted mass migration from its strife-torn former colonies in the Middle East, the decline of its united economy, and the divorce from the United Kingdom known as Brexit. With a full and hard divorce, Brexit would not only ruin Britain’s economy, but tout l’Europe as well.
While here in Asia, where more than four-billion people live, member-countries and their economies are beginning to assert themselves in the geopolitics and the economy of the world.
Southeast Asia with its 600-million market, China, Japan and Korea with a combined two-billion people, India and the rest of the South Asian sub-continent with more than a billion and a half altogether comprise 60 percent of the world’s population.
In our lifetime, in this age, this 60 percent, once considered by the imperialist nations as their “hewers of wood and drawers of water” has become the axis upon which the world economy revolves.
From Pax Britannica in the 19th century, to Pax Americana in the 20th, to an indisputable Pax Asiatica in the 21st and beyond.
Was Duterte prescient when he made his “apertura Sinica,” highlighted by the recent visit of Xi Jinping after 13 years, six of which were a clear “cold war” between the Philippines and China under Benigno S. Aquino III?
Prescience or not, the inevitable has dawned upon us.
But what all Asians must strive for, in the days when colonialism has lost its favor and flavor, is to ensure that what we Orientals can collectively achieve in the coming decades and past this century is a Pax Asiatica among self-respecting economies and sovereign countries rather than one dominated solely by a Pax Sinica.
China for its part must likewise work towards that Pax Asiatica without thinking of itself as an overlord, forgetting past enmities and historic humiliation, and usher in a peace and a shared prosperity that would last centuries.