A strategic rehabilitation of Hanjin Heavy Industry Corp. by a consortium of multinationals from around the world may be a major step towards a peaceful South China Sea. Rather than strategic competition, the rehabilitation policy of the Philippine government must be for strategic cooperation. This too is the spirit of an October 2018 report of a group of experts, including those from China, convened by a think tank in the US in meetings over the past two years — in search for practical steps to build confidence in the peace process in the region.
Why the Urgency
Not only will the Philippines and the other ASEAN South China Sea claimants benefit from a multinational successor of Hanjin; so too will the rest of the world concerned with orderly maritime trade and climate change, and a China assertive of a new brand of global leadership that must be credibly demonstrated by participating in such joint economic cooperation.
Indeed, instead of any single company, public or private, being given the right by the Philippines to infuse life into a major shipbuilder for the world, such consortium can be designed from global players across all continents. The 300 hectares of land of which only a sixth is presently used by Hanjin, can be developed into a 21st C industrial model for mankind’s benefit as artificial intelligence is used for peaceful purposes, including building vessels for disaster management purposes and cross-naval cooperation models so vital to countries in the Pacific Ring of Fire; recent reports on sea-level rise from melting Greenland suggest more destructive typhoons, wildfires, etc. sooner than earlier estimated.
Through the recent centuries, the world’s shipbuilding leadership passed from Europe to the Americas and now to Northeast Asia, with Japan sharing knowhow to Korea, and China. Korea did not have the ample raw materials for the industry but had the visionary leadership of entrepreneurs with more than private profits in mind, riding the wave of shipbuilding after WW II and the war in its peninsula.
Today, the Philippines has become a major site for global shipbuilding in view of its endowment of deep harbors, human talent, and an excellent geographic location for physical and cultural interaction (remember the phrase of Carlos P. Romulo – the first Asian UN General Assembly head – the Philippines as product of an East-West marriage). However, Hanjin’s location in the country may attract the wrong physical interaction; indeed, people may impute suspicious motives beyond shared prosperity for any single nation’s shipbuilder wishing to take over Hanjin’s Zambales operations, right across troubled waters of South China Sea.
China’s rationale in its island building exercises in the South China Sea, and its blue ocean plans steered by the official Made in China 2025 document, is to protect its own interests rather than be engaged in strategic competition. Along this line, what must be projected to the wary world is that this rising power is not engaged in a mutually assured destruction abetted by vested military-industrial players; the latter was a concern of an American President who had served in war theaters, and today it is a similar worry of some global watchers as China’s global influence grows with its economic and political weight . (Its social weight is already peacefully exhibited by many Chinatowns around the world with many hyphenated Chinese contributing to the countries that embraced political and economic adventurers, opportunity-seekers, and refugees.)
In the spirit of a great civilization, China prides itself with historic voyages before nation states were created in the 18th C. The huge armada of Adm. Zhe, with boats larger than Columbus’ ships that landed in the Americas, opened markets rather than colonized people and their lands – several centuries ahead of the founding years of capitalist democracies in that region. Adm. Zhe’s naval voyages which traversed the waters of Southeast Asia all the way to the Indian Ocean and Africa should be a fine blueprint for China’s Maritime Silk Road in the 21st C. (Marco Polo’s fabled spaghetti import from China’s noodles can be multiplied many times over!)
Strategic Not Pyhrric Victory
The Philippine government must think in terms of strategic cooperation to contribute to solving the short-term impasse on the success of its case in The Hague. That victory for the rule of law is indeed necessary, but not quite sufficient for peace and prosperity to be established in Southeast Asia, nay the world. We need more strategies in the long-run, the way Chinese ‘Go” players think many, many steps ahead of co- game players.
Hanjin’s site as a Philippine export processing zone can now be both the economic and the geopolitical basis for peacebuilding for the entire planet as its operations are designed transnationally. A report of experts including those from China (but who requested not to be named in the printed list of panelists or contributors for the publication) supports such point of view.
The Washington DC-based Center for Strategic International Studies, Defusing the South China Sea Disputes: A Regional Blueprint (October 2018), provides guidance on three areas, namely: (1) a Code of Conduct in South China Sea that the ASEAN initiated and is now moving in discussions with China, albeit glacially slow for many impatient observers, (2) a fisheries management and environmental cooperation, and (3) cooperation in oil and gas production.
The cooperation activities are premised “without prejudice to existing territorial and maritime claims.” A blueprint on shipbuilding can be a thoughtful addition as an urgent follow-through of the blueprint while the rehabilitation of Hanjin is being rushed by Philippine government authorities; foundations/donors from all industries and countries affected by global maritime trade and climate change must be tapped for this public good by many other think tanks.
It is now time to think that — given no permanent enemies (including our own selves), indeed only permanent interests – everyone must contribute to the preservation of the human race through simultaneous cooperation and healthy competition. How one wishes for aliens to unite us in this tiny blue speck in the firmaments! Through them, we may find our collective North Star. One small step for Hanjin rehabilitation, a giant leap for mankind?
(This article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines or MAP. A Retired Professor with Ph.D., the author is actively engaged in the MAP-AIM Management Educators Workshops. Feedback at <firstname.lastname@example.org>, <email@example.com> and <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>)