Out of 36 countries surveyed, the Philippines is the 6th most influenced by China, according to the inaugural China Index launched on Monday (April 25).
In the areas of domestic politics, law enforcement and technology – as well as the economy and media – the Philippines was assessed as being especially vulnerable to the exposure, pressure and effect of Beijing's influence.
Cambodia was ranked top, followed by Singapore and Thailand. Other Asian countries and territories in the top 10 include Malaysia (8th) and Taiwan (9th). Australia came in 10th.
The United States came in 15th, while Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia and Paraguay took the bottom three rankings.
The China Index, billed as the first ever attempt to gauge the People's Republic of China's (PRC) influence in the world, is the brainchild of Taiwan-based think tank Doublethink Lab (DTL)
According to its website, DTL investigates the impact of malign Chinese influence operations and disinformation campaigns, while bridging the gap between international democracy movements, tech communities and China experts.
For the pilot version of the China Index, data was collected from 36 countries in eight regions from March to August 2021. Seven regional partners, including the National Bureau Of Asian Studies, Civic IDEA and Chino Latinoamericano, managed the research and coordinated with local experts to complete the questionnaires.
The questionnaire focused on factual indicators, eschewing questions which might elicit respondents’ opinions, preferences, or judgments.
It polled regional partner organizations in tandem with local experts on PRC influence in nine domains: media, foreign policy, academia, domestic politics, economy, technology, society, military, and law enforcement.
Each domain contains 11 key indicators, designed by an eight-person committee. For example, in the area of media, one of the queries was "In my country, there are media personalities (including reporters, journalists or commentators) or celebrities who deny the existence of human rights abuses in the PRC (e.g. a media personality that doubts there are re-education camps for Uyghurs in Xinjiang)."
Each indicator was then assessed on a four-point scale by at least two local experts - academics, journalists, researchers, think tank or NGO representatives or community leaders - who provided corresponding evidence.
The indicators also fall into three categories:
Exposure: Assesses the conditions that make the target country vulnerable to PRC influence, such as economic dependence
Pressure: Measures the actions that the PRC takes in order to change the behavior of people in the target country, such as threatening economic punishment to provoke/prevent a political decision
Effect: Evaluates the degree to which the target country accommodates the PRC, and the impact these actions have, such as allowing Huawei to build a 5G network.
How vulnerable is the Philippines?
In the area of domestic politics, the local experts cited President Rodrigo Duterte's declaration of his "separation" from the United States on the South China Sea issue and his 2018 quip, “If you want, you can make us a province like Fujian, Philippine province of China, then there will be no problem." Duterte also visited China five times in the first three years of his presidency.
The experts also noted the "controversial" decision by the government to import medical equipment and vaccines from China amid the pandemic, given that the purchase of PPE and test kits cost a lot more than those that were locally made and resulted in job losses across local manufacturers.
Meanwhile, in 2019 alone, at least 36 journalists and media executives went to China on all-expenses paid media tours. There is also a proliferation of Confucius Institutes in premier Philippine universities such as University of the Philippines and Ateneo De Manila University.
Responding to queries from Yahoo Philippines, Associate Professor Chong Ja Ian of the National University of Singapore noted that the cross-country comparisons in the China Index are useful in highlighting areas of exposure to PRC influence across different jurisdictions.
Nevertheless, he cautioned that the specific rankings should be taken "with a pinch of salt", given that various actors may have incentives to obscure information to make their actions more difficult to observe externally, hence affecting the available data.
Prof Chong concluded, "The China Index is useful in telling readers where to look if they wish to assess PRC influence, but is unable to tell readers about the actual effects of such exposure on policy, lawmaking, or implementation."