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TWO occurrences in China and America within the last quarter of 2022 could impact on world political events. This column's concerns revolve around how the new administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. reacts to them. The first is the anointing of President Xi Jinping as China's virtual dictator. China has removed the two-term limit on the presidency, effectively allowing Xi to rule beyond his original term that should have ended in 2027. There have only been two people in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) prior to Xi who have been similarly privileged — Mao Zedong, the founder of modern socialist and communist China, and Deng Xiaoping, the political reformer who guided China with baby steps toward a market economy.

But China today is undergoing an upheaval of sorts and the country's profile is changing drastically. With tight controls by the Communist Party on its people and the press, we seldom have the unvarnished truth coming out from China. But with the internet defying the airwaves, snippets filter out that Xi Jinping's harsh 2022 pandemic zero-Covid lockdown policy has resulted in defiant public protests in major cities, from Shanghai to Sichuan to Nanjing and even Beijing.

Protests in China

People kept locked in their homes for months on end have started to get out to the streets to protest these insufferable conditions. The trigger to these protests was a fire in an apartment building in the city of Urumqi in the northwest where 10 people died. They couldn't escape because of the lockdown, local officials had sealed the doors of the apartments from the outside.

But the tenor of these protests has dangerously gone beyond the harsh lockdown conditions and has interjected a host of other social and political grievances — including mutterings against Xi Jinping's personal leadership. Since the Tiananmen Square upheaval in 1989, the government has learned to develop the technology to counter these mass gatherings, quelling mostly localized protests. With the Tiananmen protests, however, the elite-driven movement of Beijing-centered university-based students and intellectuals did not exactly resonate with the wider citizens.

It's different this time. The demonstrations have simultaneously and spontaneously erupted in many places, and the demands threaten to spill over beyond Covid toward the legitimacy of the new regime itself; a dangerous development as the dictatorship's response will be shaped by the dominant issues. So far, options are available to simply relax zero-Covid restrictions as a relief valve, assuaging public demonstrations of defiance. But then again, this could be misconstrued as a sign of weakness.

With the instruments of state repression at his command, it is unlikely that these developments will weaken Xi's hold on the levers of power, but it will embarrass him no end in the international stage, adding to the world's political volatility.

US Republican Party

The second event was last month's midterm US election that flipped the lower house to the Republicans. They were predicting a "red wave" at the polls that did not materialize. This was purportedly the worst GOP midterm election performance and all because of a political anchor that drags the party down — Donald Trump. Those that the former president supported in the GOP primaries lost miserably in the general elections. They could have won a bigger majority in the House and recaptured the Senate.

But a threat looms on the horizon. Trump has declared his intention to run again in 2024 putting the GOP into a quandary as to either continue to align with this polarizing still influential former president or to look for new blood within their leadership. Trump can throw the 2023 Republican primaries into a paroxysm of political realignments. There is the Florida governor DeSantis, a Harvard and Yale-educated lawyer whose star is on the ascendant. Former vice president Mike Pence will have a hard time shedding his image as Trump's stooge. Others mentioned are the maverick Liz Cheney who voted to impeach Trump and turned pariah by her party, Trump's former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, and a host of GOP wannabees. But these potential rivals never had the charisma nor the tenacious loyalty of almost a third of the fringe Republicans that Hillary Clinton once described as a "basket of deplorables." These are the 2020 election deniers continuing to propagate the lie that Biden didn't win the presidency. They could push the Donald over the lackluster GOP rivals precipitating a rematch in 2024.

US Democratic Party

On the other hand, the Democrats are likewise in a predicament as Biden, now seen as a politically weak and physically spent force, seeks re-election. So far, no strong Democratic candidate is in sight to contest Biden in the primaries. Kamala Harris as a substitute is a remote possibility — a Black woman acceptable for the vice presidency perhaps as a token but not for the presidency — from a still racist American electorate.

There are scenarios and there are scenarios but considering the state of the US' convoluted politics, the intriguing one is the return of Trump to the US presidency and its implications for the world, particularly for Southeast Asia and the Philippines.

Is BBM his own man?

A corollary to the two events described above are the implications for the Philippines with new helmsman, BBM. President Duterte went out of the political stage in style — sent off by the Filipinos with the highest popularity and trust rating ever. No doubt his foreign policy initiatives gained traction. His pivot away from America toward China has warmed the cockles of Xi Jinping, even announcing earlier in his presidency in 2018, "I simply love Xi Jinping. He understands my problem and is willing to help, so I would say thank you China." This amid the polemics surrounding the arbitral tribunal ruling on the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), rejecting China's nine-dash line. Such bromance and declaration of endearment were to provide dividends from China with Xi's promises to fund his Build, Build, Build program. But on examination once the Deegong left office, it turned out to be all just that, promises — mostly unfulfilled. We've been had!

And now, it's BBM's turn, armed with an exceedingly high popularity and trust rating as he enters office. With a possible return of Trump, and the ascendancy of Xi Jinping, we are confronted with an eerie sense of déjà vu. It was during Trump's watch that Xi caused territorial disputes involving conflicting island and maritime claims.

Trump's inability to confront Chinese aggression during his term has impacted even our country's foreign policy which started with Duterte's pivot away from America to a neutrality that really favored China. And now BBM is mouthing a similar mantra with his foreign policy of "friends to all, enemies to none," an asinine, childish declaration descriptive of our inutility; while advocating that " rules-based order and the rule of law ... in the maritime sector;" and unable to do anything while Chinese coast guards drive away Filipino fisherfolk from our traditional fishing grounds.

But we are concerned with the here and now. Duterte is out, and now Junior is on the hot seat. Can he hack it?


Read 489 times Last modified on Monday, 12 December 2022 12:24
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