"This is the genuine kind."
Reading the speech of China’s ambassador to the Philippines Huang Xilian, he discussed the most talked-about terms in international relations - multilateralism in contrast to unilateralism.
One is the policy of unilateralism, which is a doctrine that supports one-sided action. Countries that resort to this course of action is often referred to as adhering to a unilateralist policy or being arbitrary. Often, dominant states tend to ignore or disregard international law or the consensus of the majority of the members of international organizations like the UN or to a collective defense if such would run counter to its interest.
On the other hand, states that adopt a multilateralist policy seek to follow international norms and pay respect to international institutions. This is in contrast to unilateralism, where a dominant state influences how international relations should be conducted.
To quote what the Chinese ambassador said: “In the community of a shared future for mankind, there is no polarity of unilateralism and multilateralism is the right way ahead.” If we are to equate the true purpose and objective of what the Chinese ambassador categorized as of pseudo-multilateralism, it is nothing more but a disguised form of unilateralism.
Among its traits is the pretension of magnanimity and false adherence to international law and resort to “collective” action. Some international relations experts like American professor Hans Morgenthau recognize the value of collective effort as a way to legitimize multilateralism but in substance still allow the realization of one’s own interest. Former US State Department Secretary John Foster Dulles said “The State Department was not created to make friends but to protect America’s interest.”
Modern-day diplomacy resorts to the practice of “multilateralism” – not that it wants the consensus of the majority. Instead it wants to lend legitimacy to its arbitrary action. The US wants other countries to endorse its policy in what China’s ambassador would term as “closed-group” politics.
The concept of the so-called “dollar diplomacy” has long faded from our history. The US is engaged in a rather brutal but calculated diplomacy. Its policy is presented as a multilateralist policy to make it appear civil but can easily morph to one of brutal aggression once that state deviates to what it wants. It is a calculated diplomacy depending on how that intimidated state would live up to defend its national sovereignty and independence.
Today, multilateralism has been exploited by countries to advance their own interests. Ambassador Xilian calls this “pseudo-multilateralism.” Others say multilateralism is losing much ground and credibility in light of the thinning financial resources of the US and its allies. Because of depleting financial resources, donor states resort to a system of joint financial ventures to ensnare debtor countries.
There is less fanfare, much that participants have their own share of interest in the outcome of the project. Others say, this is not really a multilateral agreement, for obviously, developed countries act as brokers to facilitate the loan and to secure their release usually through the international finance institutions they control, like the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Western financiers acting as brokers insist on some kind of modification that reflects their interest as guarantor than for the debtor states.
China’s ambassador Xilian said that China today is involved in many of the country’s construction projects. Many are government-to-government funded projects. He said “the two countries have made headway in major cooperation with 11 projects completed, 12 others in the pipeline, and 12 more under negotiation.”
The biggest project is wholly capitalized by China through the China-Philippine Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation which will provide a grant of 500 million RMB (approximately P3.73 billion) to finance livelihood, infrastructure projects, and other mutually agreed projects. They also witnessed the unveiling ceremony to launch the Bank of China, Manila Branch as the clearing bank for RMB business in the Philippines.
With the robust growth of RMB transactions totaling over 400 billion RMB last year, the facility will boost trade and investment cooperation through clearing efficiency and unimpeded access to RMB in advantageous trading rates.
Prior to the visit, China and the Philippines have had a commercial contract for the Samal Island-Davao City Connector project and a Subic-Clark Railway project, in amount of US$400 million and US $940 million respectively, a significant progress in government-to-government (G-to-G) project cooperation between the two countries.
The idea of genuine multilateralism will definitely cut cost and avoid the possibility of deviating the project to other incidental purposes, more so if participated in by the private sector. The whole project becomes a multilateral project much that the interest of the private sector is incorporated to contribute to the jacking up of the cost. In the end, the entire project is delayed or derailed to the detriment of the debtor-country.
A classic example of genuine and positive multilateralism is the RCEP signed last November 16, 2020. It was an economic partnership designed to accelerate free trade. From an original seven members, ASEAN expanded to nine with two observer/candidate-members, East Timor and Papua New Guinea. Second, was its evolution to create the so-called ASEAN Plus Three, comprising of the three economic giants of Asia - China, Japan and South Korea; third, the East Asia Summit composed of Australia, India, New Zealand, Russia and the United States. Finally, there is the ASEAN Regional Forum made up of Bangladesh, Canada, Mongolia, North Korea, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and the European Union.
The ASEAN multilateralism which is mainly focused on economic development has evolved and expanded to accommodate the interest of the new members. The expanded forum is the reason why ASEAN accorded the US the initiative to orchestrate its anti-China rhetoric in the South China Sea and later elevated it to trade war against China by President Trump.
The original brainchild of the ASEAN in promoting a comprehensive economic partnership through free trade was put to disuse by the sudden withdrawal of the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The US could no longer camouflage its objective of wanting to economically isolate China. It was only China that possessed the political will that resuscitated RCEP.
Instead of crying over spilled milk, China convinced the two that they have bigger stakes in supporting the ASEAN RCEP. Japan and South Korea have more to gain from its expanded economic role with ASEAN, with China opening its door to all the members as their gateway to Trans-Asia, Europe and all the way to Africa to serve as the new superhighway for trade once the belt and road initiative is completed.
The Philippines, like China, is banking that the positive side of multilateralism will override the pseudo or negativistic attitude about multilateralism led by the US. In the end, it is the positive side of free trade and the collective consensus of countries that will prevail to look forward to sharing their common future.