Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial war on drugs just got a major new booster in the form of a Chinese billionaire, who is planning to bankroll a major new drug rehab facility in the country. Reuters:
The Philippines on Wednesday announced plans to open in November what it called a “mega” drug rehabilitation facility, funded by a Chinese tycoon, to treat up to 10,000 patients in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. […]“This initiative will not only benefit these drug victims whom we want to help and reach out to, but also for the change that we envision for our country,” Health Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial told a news conference.The center, located in a military camp north of the capital, Manila, was paid for by Chinese philanthropist and real estate developer Huang Rulun, whose net worth Forbes magazine has estimated at $3.9 billion.It will be built using 75 shipping containers of material imported from China, said Ubial.The government plans to build four more mega treatment and rehabilitation facilities elsewhere in the country and many donors, including Chinese, have come forward, she added.
The initiative seems designed to put a friendlier face on Duterte’s drug crackdown, which has drawn sharp criticism from the U.S. for its extrajudicial targeting of low-level drug dealers. Duterte has not taken the American criticism well, calling Obama a “son of a whore” and announcing the end of joint naval patrols with the U.S. in the South China Sea.The news of the Chinese-funded rehab center suggests that Beijing is offering a different bargain to Manila. Unlike the United States, which has publicly rebuked the Philippines on human rights grounds, China is lending legitimacy to Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. Beijing is incentivizing cooperation with Manila, signaling that China will support the Philippines’ sovereignty both rhetorically and financially—without the pesky human rights criticism offered by the West.It remains to be seen to what extent Duterte will pivot toward China, but he has expressed a willingness to negotiate directly with Beijing on its claims in the South China Sea. And Chinese overtures to fund Manila’s domestic priorities can help make the case that Beijing is a more reliable partner than Washington. Next week, we will get a clearer picture of where the relationship stands, as Duterte travels to Beijing for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang on the South China Sea and economic cooperation. It may be that the rehab center is only the beginning of the Philippines’ deepening engagement with China.