China appears to be deftly handling its territorial disputes with the Philippines. The FT:
A Chinese economic charm offensive has stifled Philippine protests over disputed waters in the South China Sea, a senior government minister in Manila has admitted.
The Philippine government is prioritising fruit exports, infrastructure investment and a potential $500m soft loan to buy weapons over concerns it has about Beijing’s territorial encroachment, Delfin Lorenzana, defence secretary, said. […]
Even as Mr Lorenzana spoke of his fears about “creeping” Chinese activities off his country’s shores — a longstanding Philippine strategic sensitivity — he echoed Mr Duterte in asking: “What can we do? Really, what can we do?”
He added: “Well, maybe we just take advantage of what we can get from the Chinese — and maybe in our military, using whatever they can give us.”
Lorenzana, who has usually taken a more indignant tone against Chinese maritime encroachments, here appears to be reluctantly endorsing the basic calculus made by his boss Duterte: that with China’s regional military supremacy all but complete, it makes more sense to cut a deal with Beijing and reap the rewards of Chinese trade and investment than to endlessly antagonize China over territorial disputes.
Duterte’s approach to China was forged on Obama’s watch, and currently the Trump Administration’s dual focus on North Korea and hammering out trade deals with China has not given him reason to change his mind. Still, all eyes in Manilla will no doubt be on this week’s meeting between Xi and Trump for hints of what the future might hold for the region.