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New Filipino President Wants Less Cozy Relations with America

The Philippines has been a small, but exceedingly difficult-to-extract thorn in China’s side. After all, it was Manila that challenged Beijing’s South China Sea claims in international court. Manila has also become a real ally of the United States, buying American ships and allowing U.S. troops to rotate through its bases. But now, the Philippines has elected a new Trump-like president, Roberto Duterte, who promises to create more distance with Washington. Reuters:

The Philippines has traditionally been one of Washington’s staunchest supporters in its stand-off with Beijing over the South China Sea, a vital trade route where China has built artificial islands, airstrips and other military facilities.

Duterte, the tough-talking mayor of Davao City who swept to victory in a May 9 election, has backed multilateral talks to settle rows over the South China Sea that would include the United States, Japan and Australia as well as claimant nations.

He has also called on China, which claims most of the sea, to respect the 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone granted to coastal states under international law.

Asked by reporters if he would push for bilateral talks with China, Duterte replied: “We have this pact with the West, but I want everybody to know that we will be charting a course of our own.

“It will not be dependent on America. And it will be a line that is not intended to please anybody but the Filipino interest.”

Although Duterte didn’t budge much on China, his new Philippines First attitude has caught Beijing’s attention. On Monday, President Xi Jinping sent Duterte a congratulatory note in which he expressed his hopes for improved relations. Reuters:

“The friendly, stable and healthy development of Sino-Philippine relations accords with the basic interests of both countries and both peoples,” Xi was quoted as saying in the ministry statement

It’s difficult to tell whether this will turn into an opportunity for China or not. Duterte has previously said he would be open to compromise in the South China Sea, but he’s also sounded rather hawkish. The problem for the Philippines is that it’s too small a country to have much impact in foreign affairs on its own. If it wants to pursue any serious foreign policy, the Philippines will have to stick to a side.

Which way Duterte goes will have important implications for U.S. Asia policy. The Pentagon is counting on having access to Filipino bases and docks. If U.S. rights to those facilities happened revoked, that would be a coup for China.

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  • delta 5297

    Is it a coup for China? Yes, perhaps. But the only reason we’re getting involved in the SCS in the first place is to stand up to China’s bullying of its neighbors. If those neighbors suddenly decide that they’re fine with what China is doing, well then…I suppose that’s their prerogative. I think it’s worth keeping in mind that Chinese propaganda is advancing the narrative that America is attempting to use Vietnam, the Philippines, and other countries in the region as pawns in our “encirclement” agenda…the last thing we need to do is lend this any credence.

  • Dhako

    I see the finest Geo-strategist the Americans can call on are, as ever, clueless of south east Asian’s states. But, pity of it all, is that, they are bit slow on the up-take. In other words, as I have been saying, in east Asia, you can take your principles about human right , about democracy, about liberalism and the rest of it, and you can wrapped up your neck while you take a flying jump over a cliff. And for good measure while you are at it, you can even feel disappointed that others Eat Asia do not see things in eye-to-eye manner with you (the Yanks) if it will help your emotion to remain calm in your mid-flight journey to the hard concrete bottom.

    Moreover, in that part of the world, what counts is where economics will lead. And, since, the US has no larger economical pie to share with the likes of Philippines (as opposed to China who has abundance of developmental wealth as well as state-led investment largess) then it was only a matter of time before the Philippines sees the light of how getting close to the US’s intention to try to contain China (through the US’s Asia pivot) was going to cost them, economically.

    Hence, the reason you hear the “noises” from the new president, particularly that of cutting his nation’s losses against China and allowing the US to search for it’s would-be-gullible-strategical-cretins in Asia for confronting China in somewhere else, but not from the Philippines.

    Subsequently, expect the new government in Philippine to quietly give up the the international tribunal case China in so far as the South China Seas is concern. Of course, China will have to give some sort of face-saving formula for the president Duterte to give up his country’s court case. And this will probably be involve in a “charm offensive” from the top chaps from Beijing along with a massive investment in Duterte’s country. But that is the essence of the Geo-economical competitions in which China and US, are locked in.

    So the cost to China will be the price of doing a diplomatic business and it will be a worthy investment, if, at the end of the day, such political and economical investment, cleave away the Philippine from the foolish US’s agenda in the South East China. This will be a process that will continue till each of these countries who took a shining for American’s bluff against China, are won over, one at the time.

    This is how you end the “strategical beach-head” of the “US’s pivot” into East Asia. Of course, the Japanese will always remain to be the US’s Fifth-column in that are )or as they used to say, a giant immovable US’s carrier). But China could live with that reality, so long as everyone else (including the Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, South-Korean, and the Philippines) are signing – in a strategical point-of-view – from a “political hymn-sheet” that is not hostile to China. or for her desire to be a great power in her region without playing a second fiddle to an out-of-the-area naval power, like the US.

    Consequently, once that reality is secure (which will probably take till 2025 at the latest) then the US can continue to keep talking itself about how great power they are in the world. So long as they do not have the means and the most crucially of all, the allies in the region, to hurt China in her own region and backyard, then one can say that the Pacific in general (and East Asia’s waters) are big enough of a “international water-ways” to accommodate both the US and China’s navies.

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