THE Manila Times news report quoted Professor Renato de Castro of De La Salle University’s international studies department as saying in a forum in Makati City, “Foreign policy has to be democratic. It has to reflect the sentiment of the people.”

Just like what the recent survey of Pulse Asia revealed that 8 out of 10 Filipinos or 84 percent want the government to assert Philippine rights over the West Philippine Sea. Another aspect of what the Duterte administration should consider, not just plain independent foreign policy. Yes, independent decision with no foreign influence. But it is another thing when you say it should be influenced by the Filipino people – your constituents. Not just you or the people in your loop.

If an overwhelming 84 percent of Filipinos want the government to uphold our rights to the contested area in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea, it could mean a more aggressive and firm stand to claim it based on the ruling at The Hague’s Permanent Court of Arbitration. So, there seems to be a sort of apprehension on the part of the present leadership in pursuing our rightful claim.

Why is this so?

It should be noted that this is not new when one is dealing with China economically like in other countries. An article by Brahma Chellaney from the Strategist online explains this further – “If there is one thing at which China’s leaders truly excel, it is the use of economic tools to advance their country’s geostrategic interests.

Through its $1 trillion ‘one belt, one road’ initiative, China is supporting infrastructure projects in strategically located developing countries, often by extending huge loans to their governments. As a result, countries are becoming ensnared in a debt trap that leaves them vulnerable to China’s influence.

Of course, extending loans for infrastructure projects is not inherently bad. But the projects that China is supporting are often intended not to support the local economy, but to facilitate Chinese access to natural resources, or to open the market for low-cost and shoddy Chinese goods. In many cases, China even sends its own construction workers, minimizing the number of local jobs that are created. Remember the shady North Rail project?

Several of the projects that have been completed are now bleeding money. For example, Sri Lanka’s Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, which opened in 2013 near Hambantota, has been dubbed the world’s emptiest.

Likewise, Hambantota’s Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port remains largely idle, as does the multibillion-dollar Gwadar port in Pakistan. For China, however, these projects are operating exactly as needed: Chinese attack submarines have twice docked at Sri Lankan ports, and two Chinese warships were recently pressed into service for Gwadar port security.

In a sense, it is even better for China that the projects don’t do well. After all, the heavier the debt burden on smaller countries, the greater China’s own leverage becomes. Already, China has used its clout to push Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand to block a united ASEAN stand against China’s aggressive pursuit of its territorial claims in the South China Sea.”

And that includes our country as the host of the ASEAN summit where the South China Sea issue is not in the agenda.

“Moreover, some countries, overwhelmed by their debts to China, are being forced to sell to it stakes in Chinese-financed projects or hand over their management to Chinese state-owned firms.

In financially risky countries, China now demands majority ownership up front. For example, China clinched a deal with Nepal this month to build another largely Chinese-owned dam there, with its state-run China Three Gorges Corporation taking a 75% stake.”

Another crucial issue that may affect national security matters that we already entered into with China is our electric power grid. Unfortunately, it is not national as the name of the office implies National Grid Corporation of the Philippines and disguised as not wholly owned by the Philippines but partly owned by the state grid of China.

And still many more agreements with China already in the pipeline as what President Rodrigo Duterte proudly told the Filipino nation. And these are not for free, that is what China termed as soft loan, which they are using soft power to entice nations.

And lastly, why is the biggest (so far) rehabilitation center in the world for drug users is located inside a military camp that is financed and built by China's "philanthropist". Did we make a due diligence about Rulin who was rumored to be an underworld character in Binondo during the time of Marcos who hastily left for China according to CANU (PC-INP Constabulary Anti-Narcotic Unit of the late Gen. Bienvenido Felix) retired operatives?

Here is what Brahma Chellaney’s warning “by integrating its foreign, economic, and security policies, China is advancing its goal of fashioning a hegemonic sphere of trade, communication, transportation, and security links. If states are saddled with onerous levels of debt as a result, their financial woes only aid China’s neocolonial designs. Countries that are not yet ensnared in China’s debt trap should take note—and take whatever steps they can to avoid it.”

I hope that our economic managers who went to China recently were not caught in the trap. Just asking.