Manila-based think-tank Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress (APPFI) and Brisbane-based Griffith Asia Institute (GAI) co-organized the 2019 Philippine-Australia Dialogue on July 18-19, with the support of the Australian Embassy in the Philippines. This year’s theme was “Connecting the Spokes” in reference to the hubs and spokes model with the United States as the center.

To ask how to connect the spokes is also to ask how to create a regional order in our own image. This echoes Australian Ambassador Steven Robinson’s call to not sit back in the face of great power competition. The following are ways to connect the spokes, which can serve as lessons on how to improve bilateral relations and craft a more resilient regional security architecture.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. 千里之行,始於足下.

For me, that first single step was deciding in 1979 to take graduate studies at the University of the Philippines and to specialize on contemporary China. This was what launched what has become a 40-year long sojourn -- and counting -- as a China watcher. Wherever my career path took me – at one time or another as an academic, an armchair activist , a government analyst, an author, an editor, a policy adviser, a public speaker on international relations, an advocate of people’s diplomacy, a keen observer of global affairs - sometimes nationalist, sometimes internationalist - China always rose to the front and center of my work.

Summary

The “Chinese Wave” that has unfolded in the Philippines comes in the form of an overwhelming increase in economic and social presence (capital, migrant workers, tourism). The Chinese Wave is a result of the Philippines’ positive economic prospects, the enabling business environment under Duterte, and the political convenience brought about by Duterte’s China policy.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is an added factor for the expanded economic interaction between the Philippines and China. Contrary to the mainstream notion that China’s BRI is mainly about infrastructure, the BRI actually encompasses all facets of bilateral issue-areas (policy coordination, trade, investment, financial integration, people-to-people ties) except defense and security.

While there have been greater investments and commercial interaction between the Philippines and China, there are apparent negative economic, social, and political implications that both China and the Duterte government ought to address.

Photo Source: CGTN

Economics and security issues are on the agenda of President Rodrigo Duterte's fifth visit to Beijing. The number of visits he has made thus far is indicative of the importance he attaches to the burgeoning bilateral relations.

China has become the Philippines' largest trade partner since 2016, its largest investor last year and is expected to be the country’s largest inbound tourism market this year.