Duterte said to rebalance by freezing S. China Sea issue
Analysts call Philippine president’s tough talk an effort to maintain an independent stance
Analysts say that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be seeking to change what they described as an unequal relationship between Washington and Manila by taking measures to improve ties with China. The latest example is his setting aside an arbitration ruling on the South China Sea, which he did over the weekend.
“In the play of politics, now, I will set aside the arbitration ruling. I will not impose anything on China,” Duterte said at a news conference on Saturday.
Duterte praised China as having “the kindest soul of all” for providing financial assistance. “So, what do I need America for?”
The arbitration case was unilaterally launched by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, over South China Sea disputes.
Duterte also expressed anger toward Washington’s criticism of his anti-drug efforts, and he urged US forces to leave the Philippines.
Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez said on Monday that the Beijing-based Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will fund two infrastructure projects for the Philippines, which is also a founding member of the AIIB.
On Friday, the Chinese and Philippine coast guards had the first meeting of its kind, during which they established a Joint Coast Guard Committee to cooperate in areas including fighting drug trafficking and other maritime crimes, environmental protection and search and rescue operations.
“This is a milestone because it opened the communication lines between the two agencies involved in the (South China Sea),” Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilo told AFP.
Xu Liping, a senior researcher of Southeast Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that Duterte’s remarks showed his dissatisfaction toward what he called the unequal relationship between Washington and Manila. Duterte aims to safeguard his country’s core interests and maintain independent diplomacy, he said.
“In Duterte’s opinion, if a country has foreign armies deployed on its territory, the leaders will hardly have independence to safeguard national interests,” Xu said.
Li Guoqiang, a senior researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said, however, that there is unlikely to be any substantial change in the framework of the US-Philippines alliance. “Overall strategy is still based on their national interests,” he said. However, Duterte’s comments are “a positive sign”, Li said.
Chen Qiqi contributed to this story.