Where there is trouble, there is opportunity.
Recent events have given new life to this old cliché.
The past months have been filled with news on the debacle created by a hostile United States government against Chinese telecommunication equipment maker Huawei Technologies.
The tough measures imposed by President Donald Trump are intended to stymie the growth of the world’s second largest smartphone maker. In response, China and its people are rallying together. This development may yet be the impetus to move the company – and the country – away from dependence on Western technology.
On another front, at an individual level, a daughter of a jeepney driver graduated top of her class from a top university in the Philippines. She had seized the opportunity presented by a scholarship, finished ahead of the academic race, and is now equipped to leave grinding poverty behind.
Opportunity in adversity
On May 15, the Trump administration added Huawei to the US Department of Commerce’s entity list. Companies on this list are banned from doing any business with, or benefiting from, US corporations. American giant technology company Google subsequently revoked Huawei’s Android license, effectively cutting access by Huawei’s mobile phones to Google apps.
Huawei is the largest and most advanced privately-owned telecom company in China. It plays a key role in China’s ambition to lead the way in 5G, the next-generation mobile telecoms infrastructure.
At the 18th Shangri-la Dialogue held from May 31 to June 2 in Singapore, many participants expressed Asia’s growing fears that a clash of superpowers will disrupt the balance in world trade and hurt smaller nations.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong opened the dialogue organized by the London-based Institute of International and Strategic Studies, with the warning that the world risks losing the benefits of globalization if tensions between US and China deepen.
The Shangri-la Dialogue is the most prominent defense forum that gathers world leaders and their defense ministers and experts to discuss security and defense issues of mutual concern to participants.
This year, no less than Chinese President Xi Jinping attended and addressed the forum. It also marked the first time in eight years that China’s defense minister attended and addressed the dialogue.
China and the US are the world’s two largest economies; many countries are naturally affected by the growing tensions. Those caught in the crossfire are trying to balance their relationships with both for fear of alienating one or the other. Many countries rely on exports to fuel the economic growth that provides jobs for millions of people.
The disruption of trade flow and delayed decisions due to lack of business confidence result in growing uncertainties on all business fronts.
Bad, no matter how one looks at it.
Although many Asian countries view the US as an essential check on China’s power, they are also wary that Trump and the US have gone too far in trying to halt its rise.
Huawei is owned by its employees through stock options. Ren Zheng Fei, Huawei’s chief operating officer, owns only 1.4 percent of the company. He has been doing the rounds of interviews with big media. Ren has come across as being sincere in admitting that Huawei faces a huge challenge but is confident that it will be overcome.
The Huawei debacle and the continuing trade war show just how little the US understands China. Several American economists even incorrectly claim that China has had no innovation for the last 30 years. They did not learn military strategist Sun Tzu’s important dictum: Know your enemy.
In fact, China is thanking the US for the surge of nationalism among her youth. In particular, Ren said China can thank the US for rallying the best minds to help Huawei solve the problem and possibly fast-track its own China-produced operating system.
History has shown that the Chinese are at their strongest when there is an external threat. The Chinese will rally behind Huawei and help it overcome the challenge, especially because the threat comes from the West, the same West that brought China to its knees in the 1800s.
In fact, all over China, business establishments have put out ads announcing discounts for customers who show they use Huawei phones. There are also calls to boycott iconic products by Apple and other US companies.
The trade war has spawned new opportunities for China. But both superpowers should know that in this war no one wins.
Opportunity in poverty
The speech of Reycel Hyacenth Bendaña, Ateneo de Manila University’s 2019 valedictorian, went viral on social media. Many were touched by her sincere words that were spoken from the heart. Daughter of a jeepney driver, she asked her alma mater to continue to nurture a culture of generosity, and hoped that this will be pervasive to influence others to help the less privileged.
In her words: “We must dream of something better than this. Ateneo should not be content to sit proudly on its hill and invite others into its light. It must shine its light to the darkness far beyond its borders. I am extremely lucky to have been given a place here. It is my honor and duty to make things more just, to share whatever light I can, especially to those who have only known darkness.”
In high school, Bendaña experienced working as a jeepney barker (one who shouts to call passengers) for her father and taking on odd jobs. From her father, she learned and lived the value and dignity of working hard, in the process landing a well-deserved full scholarship at Ateneo. She not only excelled in academic work but also became president of the university’s student council. Many Ateneo scholars know this feat is difficult to match.
Bendaña’s hard work paid off. But it wouldn’t have been possible had she not been given that chance for a free education. Sadly, it is a chance that remains beyond the hopes of many of our fellow citizens.
Hence, she said: “My success is an exception, not the norm: rarely do we see a child from the poorest of the poor climb her way up to one of the top universities in the country, and become its highest student representative. What was difficult for me is still unattainable for others, and will remain so, even with Ateneo’s most generous efforts.”
I believe that the chance to help others is a privilege we all must seize. It is a chance that may not come our way again. Ateneo’s generosity produced a Bendaña. It is her dream that the same chance be given to a wider group of people: “That our country can provide fair access to opportunity for all, and a decent path to success for those who are like me. I envision and hope for a nation where a success story like mine is not an exemption, but the rule.”
Bendaña’s story can serve to inspire others, help them realize that crisis can bring opportunities and such opportunities may come from others. And we, the fortunate ones, may be the “others.”
Opportunity to help others
I can relate to Bendaña’s experience. I lost my father at 12 and got through high school and college as a working student. The experience has made me appreciate better the lack of opportunities others suffer from. Not everyone gets a chance to work while studying.
Difficult though the situation was, it only made us work doubly hard and appreciate better the help and chance brought to our lives.
Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran, through the Diocese of Novaliches, has embarked on a pilot project to help orphans of victims of extrajudicial killings (EJK) go back to school.
Some of these children lost both their parents. The children have been sent to live with relatives who are also destitute. Many have quit school, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of poverty and ignorance.
“Papaano ako papasok sa paaralan kung hindi ko kayang bumili kahit limang pisong lugaw para pananghalian ko (How can I go to school when I cannot even afford P5 of congee for my lunch)?” one of them said.
Some of the children expressed the wish to become policemen. Asked why, they said: “So I can kill the policemen who killed my father.”
A vicious cycle of violence.
This is what the government does not realize. The so-called “collateral damage” in the war against drugs may create permanent and irreversible cycles of poverty, ignorance, crime and violence in communities.
This crisis gives us opportunities to help these orphans of EJK victims. Let us help as best we can.
Where there is trouble, there is opportunity.