Security experts have warned against the rising influence of Beijing in the Philippines and the Southeast Asian region.
Speaking at the recent ASEAN Summit in Thailand, US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said countries should deal with each other as sovereigns, equals and in accordance with the international law and customs.
“The days that big countries could take advantage of small countries just because of their size, just because one country is big and one country is small, we don’t think that there is any place for that in the international system of the 21st century,” O’Brien said.
This sentiment was echoed by former Bayan Muna representative Neri Colmenares in a television interview where he spoke of China’s creeping control over telecom and power assets in the Philippines.
Colmenares cited the country’s third major telecom player, DITO Telecommunity, which is controlled by state-owned China Telecoms. He said that given the Philippines’ maritime dispute with China, “it is absurd for the Philippines to give it control of our telecommunications system.”
The Armed of Forces of the Philippines even went the extra mile by signing a memorandum of agreement to allow DITO to put up cell towers and telecom equipment in military installations nationwide―a move Colmenares and other experts said would make the Philippine military vulnerable to Chinese hacking and espionage.
The former representative also expressed concern over China’s co-ownership of the national grid, saying its system could be prone to cyber-attacks.
“They [Chinese company] admitted in their annual report, its [system is] vulnerable to cyber-attacks,” Colmenares said in the interview.
“Even if they say it’s immune to cyber-attacks, China has proven, and many hackers have proven actually, that anything can be hacked now. Don’t tell us that our grid is safe from China when in fact it’s the largest stockholder in that company,” he said.
The security of the country’s national grid came to light after CNN reported in November that the grid is “under full control” of the Chinese government, and is at risk of shutdown in times of conflict. Lawmakers from both the Senate and the House of Representatives announced plans to launch an inquiry into the National Grid Corporation’s issues.
China’s control goes beyond the power and telecoms sectors, as it worked in other countries to establish what are said to be comprehensive and cooperative partnerships featuring equality, mutual benefit and common development as in the case of Latin American and Caribbean countries.
China’s investments in infrastructure either enable greater economic activity that favor Chinese interests or thrust those Latin American countries into ‘debt traps’ as reported by Carlos Roa of the high level policy publication The National Interest.
Another case is Ecuador, where around 80 percent of the country’s valuable oil output (or 58 percent of Ecuador’s exports) are paid back to China in return for $18.4 billion worth of loans totaling to about a third of Ecuador’s public debt.
Former Supreme Court senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio cited onerous provisions in the repayment of loans from China that in case the Philippines defaulted in repaying the loans, China could seize patrimonial assets and assets dedicated to commercial use by the Philippine government.
International political analysts determined that Chinese dominance of countries’ businesses and industries through the years pointed to a centralized program of the State of China’s politburo.