Batuhan: Chinese-Filipino

Allan S. Batuhan

WE HAVE a problem with China. We don’t have a problem with the Chinese.

Just take a look at the following.

“For China to claim that the whole of the South China Sea belongs to them, I think that is ridiculous.

Under the United Nations Convention for UNCLOS, coastal states are entitled to an EEZ and beyond that are considered the high seas, common to all nations.

It was on this basis that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague rejected China’s claims in 2016 to almost the entire area, through which an estimated US$3 trillion worth of trade pass each year.

Beijing, however, rejects the ruling and has expanded its presence by building artificial islands with runways and installing an advanced missile systems.” (“Asean members get tough with China on South China Sea,” New Straits Times, Jan. 6, 2020)

Bully is perhaps too soft a word to describe how China has been acting with regard to what it claims are its “borders,” both maritime and land. Recently, we have seen flashpoints with India along their common border in The Himalayas. And in what has been a long-running drama in recent years, their aggression against the Association of Southeast Asian Nations states with regard to China’s illegal “9-Dash Line” claim is well known. Not only have they harmed our fishermen in our own waters, they have also done the same to the Indonesians, the Malaysians and the Vietnamese in theirs.

Of course, weaker states like us fight back. Not with guns and missiles, but with words, in the only level playing field left for us against a bigger nation—social media. What I do want to point out though, especially in the light of racial tensions in the US in recent days, is that we should be clear who we are against. We are against China, and not people of the Chinese race.

It is not uncommon these days to come across posts in social media, that conflate anger towards China, with hatred for the Chinese—even the Chinese-Filipinos. I think this is wrong and ill-conceived. Chinese-Filipinos are our allies in this fight, and we should bring them to our side, just as the Indonesians, Vietnamese and Malaysians have brought their ethnic Chinese population to their side.

In connection with this, I would like to call out what I think is phraseology that we must fix, to set the context right.

Filipinos in the Philippines have always been referred as as “Filipino-Chinese.” In contrast, those in the United States are called Chinese-Americans, just as Filipinos there are referred to as Filipino-American. The noun is American, and the adjective is the ethnic group from where the person originates. By implication, that person’s loyalty is first to America, and only second to the ethnic group where the person belongs. If ever there should be a conflict between America and their country of origin, their loyalties are never in question.

The Chinese in the Philippines stand out because of the strange phraseology of their ethnicity. Arguably, they should never have been called “Filipino-Chinese” but Chinese-Filipinos. And yet somehow, this phrase has stuck without anyone raising an eyebrow.

It may just have been a grammatical aberration, with no malice intended. But the term has stuck through all these years, that to an outsider looking in, the inevitable question comes up. Is their loyalty to China first, and the Philippines second? Or in the case of ethnic minorities in the United States, is it unquestionably to their current homeland?

In today’s world where China is aggressively encroaching on other countries’ territories, and flexing its muscle as the Asian superpower, we need to get this right. China, and all its propaganda mouthpieces like Xinhua, CGTN and others frequently use the race card in its defense, conflating and confusing the issue to their advantage.

It is a small gesture, but not an empty one. Changing the phrase “Filipino-Chinese” to Chinese-Filipino would signify to China and to the world that this is not an issue of ethnicity but of nationality, and that all of the Filipinos—no matter their race—stand firmly against China’s selfish aggression in the region.