A year or so ago, as the wave of Chinese visitors rose to alarming proportions, I had a minor divergence of views with my friend, Norberto Gonzales, former secretary of defense and national security adviser, on the rapidly growing Chinese presence. Seeing the virtually all-male visitors, young, able-bodied, with military haircut, and housed in little cubicles inside buildings that looked like military installations, Gonzales saw an imminent Chinese invasion in the making—-similar to the Japanese invasion during the Pacific war that was preceded by the deployment of Japanese gardeners and other workers in many Filipino homes.

I was struck by his observation. But I could not agree that the runaway traffic of Chinese arrivals from mainland China, now said to number 3.8 million, portended a future invasion; I was inclined to consider it already as the invasion. Unarmed yes, but an invasion nevertheless that threatened to overwhelm the local population. Filipinos did not know under what rules the big swarm of visitors had come in, how long they were staying, what they were supposed to be doing while here, what particular agency was monitoring or regulating their activities, etc. Some congressmen suspected that many of them were soldiers of China’s People’s Liberation Army; if true, nobody knew their precise number, and their stay was not covered by any Visiting Forces Agreement.

The matter took an interesting turn when it became known that most of them were engaged in online gambling, which is banned in China. So President Xi Jinping called on President Rodrigo Duterte to ban it also in the Philippines. DU30 has allowed China to reclaim and militarize islands in the Spratlys within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone without a hostile note, but to accede to Xi would mean an incalculably large revenue loss for his government. Yet the Philippine Offshore Gaming Operations (POGO) had become one big money laundering machine through which billions of dollars from Chinese exports, instead of being remitted inward to China, were said to be going into high rise condos, real estate and other acquisitions abroad.

This seemed to suggest that a growing number of Chinese mainlanders, not just the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, were looking for a life beyond the reach of their emperor-for-life Xi Jinping. This was but one of China’s many problems. Its amazing economic growth, which dazzled the world since Deng Xiaoping, has begun to sputter as US President Donald Trump’s America First program began to retake American businesses and jobs that had previously migrated to the Chinese mainland.

This was also the ultimate fruit of China’s repressive one-child policy, biased in favor of the male child, a colossal problem of its own, which recently caused The New York Times columnist and American author Ross Douthat to sound the alarm on China’s “demographic crisis.” In a population of 1.3 billion, there are several million more males than females, which makes the ageing and the dying extremely hard to replace, and the crisis well nigh impossible to reverse.

China will have to march longer than its legendary “Long March” to travel through this demographic winter, without the prospect of spring, as the consequence of its sustained demographic follies. There is no easy way out. The population has aged before it became rich.

Now comes the “novel corona virus acute respiratory disease” from Wuhan in China’s central province of Hubei. At this writing 361 individuals were reported to have died in China, and one in the Philippines. More than 17,000 have been infected in China, and at least 80 were being monitored for possible infection in the Philippines. The virus is reported to have spread to more than two dozen countries, including the United Sates, Japan, Thailand, Britain, and Hong Kong. It has prompted the World Health Organization to declare a global emergency and several countries, including the Philippines, have banned travellers from China, Hong Kong and Macau.

It is not the first time China is associated with a deadly pandemic. A 2010 scientific article in Nature Genetics magazine recalls that the Black Death, or the Plague, which reduced the world’s population by 100 million and China’s own by half, originated in China hundred years ago. In 2015, according to a recent article in the London Daily Mail, China built a special laboratory in Wuhan to study SARS and Ebola and other dangerous pathogens. This became known as the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab, inside Wuhan’s Institute of Virology, the only one in China among 54 such labs worldwide.

It was built under the highest biosafety (level-4) standard, according to the report, using airtight hazmat suits on special “cabinet” work spaces that confine viruses and bacteria that can be transmitted through the air to sealed boxes that scientists reach into, using attached high-grade gloves. But in 2017, US biosafety experts warned a virus could “escape” the facility. This is apparently what happened.

The outbreak is feared to be worse than the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, which killed some 800 people worldwide in 2002-03. Its impact on the world economy is expected to be even far worse because China is now much bigger than it used to be; during the SARS epidemic China accounted for 8 percent of global manufacturing, today it accounts for over a quarter. Chinese stocks have plunged to a one-year low after jittery investors erased $420 billion, prompting China’s central bank to inject $173.8 billion (1.2 trillion yuan) into the market’s liquidity.

Aggravating China’s new economic woes is the rapidly spreading Sinophobia. In Philippine Catholic churches, the faithful have started praying an “oratio imperata,” a Church- ordered prayer, for an end to the virus. But even among the faithful many appear to have been affected by this phobia of the Chinese. I cannot predict how long the ban on travelers from China will stay after this virus is contained, but I am sure more and more people will be urging DU30 to find ways and means of repatriating a big part, if not all, of the 3.8 million “invaders” from China.

Francisco S. Tatad was senator from 1992 to 2001.