I saw the old Hollywood blockbuster film Superman starring Christopher Reeve recently. There was a scene between Superman and the villain Lex Luthor played by veteran actor Gene Hackman that reminds me of the conflict between China and some of her South East Asian neighbors including the Philippines over the disputed Spratly Islands.
Lex Luthor: Miss Teschmacher, when I was six years old my father said to me…
Miss Teschmacher: “Get out.”
Lex Luthor: Ha ha. Before that. He said, “Son, stocks may rise and fall, utilities and transportation systems may collapse. People are no damn good, but they will always need land and they’ll pay through the nose to get it! Remember,” my father said…
Otis: “… land.”
Lex Luthor: Right.
In the scene from the film, I thought it was funny how easy it was for Lex Luthor to lure Superman into his den and trap him. It was also hilarious how Luthor, who had no superpowers and was relying solely on his wit, could act so calm while taunting Superman – someone who is tough as steel and someone who can easily crush Luthor if he wanted to. And then I realized why it was easy for Luthor to get Superman out of the way, albeit temporarily, to continue with his “evil” schemes.
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Lex Luthor studied his nemesis well and used his weaknesses against him. He knew Superman was bound by some kind of honor code not to hurt humans even if he wanted to. And even when it became clear to Superman that he was planning to blow-up some parts of California just to realign the land value to make it favorable to his investment properties, Luthor knew Superman still wouldn’t hurt him.
Luthor was also clever enough to trick Superman into opening a chest made of lead that contained kryptonite. Of course he knew Superman could not use his x-ray vision to see through lead, information Superman gladly offered to his love interest, Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane.
You could be forgiven for siding with Lex Luthor. He didn’t feel threatened at all by the superhero’s physique and dismissed it by saying, “Do you know why the number two hundred is so vitally descriptive to both you and me? It’s your weight and my I.Q.”
Now here’s how the Lex Luthor and Superman analogy applies to the conflict over the Sptratly Islands. In some ways Lex Luthor reminds me of both China and the Philippines. China, like Luthor, knows the value of land and she will do almost anything to get it. Meanwhile, compared to superpower China, the Philippines looks fragile and weak. But the Philippines still has a trick up her sleeve. She is shamelessly using the United States as kryptonite to weaken China and stop her from going through her “evil” schemes of acquiring the disputed islands.Now unless China is prepared to sever her ties with her number one trading partner – the US, she cannot simply invade the islands including Ayungin, which is not even an island but shoal where the former World War II US landing ship now Philippine Navy vessel BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded and serves as garrison for a few Philippine marines manning the area. Their presence annoys the hell out of the Chinese. The latter probably thinks that the rusty and rickety second hand vessel is some kind of joke at their expense. But the Chinese can only try to stop food and other supplies from being brought to the marines who are stationed there. Any aggressive move could create an international dilemma.
Meanwhile, the US is treading on thin ice. The Superpower doesn’t know if she wants to play Lex Luthor or Superman. Like Superman, the US has a few weaknesses, which is some kind of “commitment” to support her so-called “allies”, which includes the Philippines. But on the other hand, like Lex Luthor, the US also comes across as too eager to extend her territory. What’s in it for the US to help her allies is something some folks in the Philippines would rather not discuss for obvious reasons. As long as Uncle Sam is more than willing to extend his helping hand, the Philippines will welcome him with open arms. But when it comes to China, it’s hard to tell sometimes if the US doesn’t want to be stuck in the middle of a conflict or be in it.The US doesn’t need to go to war with China over an issue that everyone knows has nothing to do with Americans. While some US diplomats secretly hate the Chinese, most of them would rather the conflict gets resolved using diplomatic means considering China has become a force to reckon with. This is especially true since China has caught up in the arms race.
China has probably manufactured enough weapons of mass destruction to blow up any of their South East Asian neighbors, particularly the Philippines. If this is true, we shouldn’t be surprised because China has become the manufacturing king thanks to globalization. If we are to believe the news floating around, it seems there are Chinese generals who cannot wait for the day when they get the green light to blow up the Philippines into smithereens.
And to complicate matters for the Philippines, it was recently brought to light by Former Interior Secretary Rafael Alunan III that a Chinese company owns forty percent of the Philippines’ communication lines and electrical grid. Apparently, the Chinese have stealthily invaded our shores legally and already control some of the Philippines’ resources and can use it to cripple the country’s infrastructure when the time is right. This means that even before President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino publicizes his stand on the dispute against China, the Chinese likely already know where he stands. This is one instance where one can say, it’s a good thing foreign ownership is limited only to forty percent. Otherwise, the Philippines would have been bought cheap by foreign entities a long time ago.
China plays Lex Luthor better than the Philippines. China seems to have studied her nemesis well and used their weaknesses against them. Lack of military capability is one weakness the Philippines might not overcome due to rampant corruption and mismanagement of the country’s resources by public servants in charge. Despite the outrage by members of the local Philippine communist movement, the country will always rely on help from foreign military troops due to its inability to defend itself. The country can only cry foul and hope that members of the international community through the United Nations can intervene and solve our problems for us.Unfortunately, the current government headed by President BS Aquino does not even have the right diplomatic skills to appease China into cooperating. Sadly, BS Aquino is not someone the Chinese would want to negotiate with even if he had something to offer, which he doesn’t. One reason could be BS Aquino’s refusal to apologize for the bungled hostage crises that resulted in the deaths of 8 Hong Kong Chinese tourists in 2010.
At the moment, the Philippines is lucky that despite its military might, China also has a weakness. That weakness lies in its priority to make money through manufacturing. Chinese officials are smart enough to know that a war with their neighbors and trading partners is not good for business. But if the Chinese realize that whatever business coming from the Philippines is not worth keeping the peace, then Filipinos will be in trouble.
So the Philippines better find another piece of kryptonite to ward off China from coming to our shores because it is apparent that the Chinese can tighten the grip on our balls using more economic sanctions. They can do this because they can.
Superman: Is that how a warped brain like yours gets its kicks? By planning the death of innocent people?
Lex Luthor: No, by causing the death of innocent people.
In life, things are not always what they seem.