The ever-unpredictable Rodrigo Duterte flipped the bird at the EU yesterday, Reuters reports:
Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte demanded on Wednesday the European Union show him respect worthy of a president, despite giving the bloc a one-finger gesture and a vulgar four-letter rebuke after its legislators expressed concern about his drug war.
Angered by last week’s call by the European parliament for restraint in his deadly 11-week crackdown, the former mayor of the southern city of Davao took aim for a second day at the European Union and said he did not deserve insults.
“Even the EU is scolding me,” Duterte said in a televised speech at an army base.
“When I was mayor, that was OK but it is different now because I am the president. Why would you insult me?”
He added: “It is as if I am your subordinate.”
Since his election, Duterte has been flailing about spectacularly, first breaking porcelain with abandon and then trying to glue things back together. He called President Obama a “son of a bitch” two weeks ago, prompting the White House to call off a planned bilateral meeting. Duterte apologized, but then said last week that he wants U.S. troops off Philippine soil.
Manila has never been powerful, but it was in many ways the lynchpin of the U.S.-backed response to China’s blustery rise. With most of ASEAN oscillating on how firmly to stand up to China, the Philippines was consistently pushing for a more assertive response. Taking its South China Sea objections to the Hague was part of this strategy and attitude.
The Philippines’ new role as troublemaker complicates U.S. Asia strategy. Duterte hasn’t fully backed off from demanding the international court ruling be respected, although he’s made noises suggesting a change could be coming. But he has sent rather clear signals that he’s unhappy with international norms and their most vociferous Western supporters. Although it’s possible he’s saying different things behind closed doors and although Philippine foreign policy hasn’t officially changed in any major ways, the cursing and the bloviating aren’t a good sign. If Manila does back out of the international effort to confront China, that would be a big blow to America’s Asia policy, and particularly to the White House’s cherished pivot.