US should sup­port Bei­jing andManila nor­mal­iz­ing ties

China Daily (USA) - - VIEWS -

Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s four-day state visit to China, sched­uled to start on Tues­day, has drawn ex­ten­sive at­ten­tion from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity since it was made public.

Duterte’s gov­ern­ment has made clear its pri­or­ity is to im­prove do­mes­tic eco­nomic con­di­tions and peo­ple’s liveli­hoods, and it wants to take ad­van­tage of Bei­jing’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive to help re­al­ize these aims.

Duterte also wants to break the diplo­matic im­passe with China over the South China Sea cre­ated by for­mer Philip­pine pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino III. From Jan 22, 2013 when the Aquino gov­ern­ment uni­lat­er­ally filed a case to an in­ter­na­tional tri­bunal on the Philip­pines’ ter­ri­to­rial dis­pute with China in the South China Sea to July 12 when the tri­bunal ruled on the case — which was ac­tu­ally be­yond its ju­ris­dic­tion— the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment con­sis­tently made clear its “non-ac­cep­tance, non-par­tic­i­pa­tion and non-recog­ni­tion” of the ar­bi­tra­tion, which means the Philip­pines has not been able to gain sub­stan­tial ben­e­fits from the ar­bi­tra­tion.

At the same time, the sign­ing of a joint state­ment be­tween the foreign min­is­ters of China and the As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions on July 25 aimed at fully ful­fill­ing the Dec­la­ra­tion on the Con­duct of Par­ties in the South China Sea, along with the guide­line on set­ting up a high-level hot­line for mar­itime emer­gen­cies and the joint state­ment on rules in the event of ac­ci­den­tal en­coun­ters in the South China Sea, passed by China and the bloc at a sum­mit on Sept 7, also made the newPhilip­pine gov­ern­ment aware that the South China Sea is­sue is not the full pic­ture of ASEAN’s ties with China. Any ob­sti­nate con­fronta­tion with China, it be­lieves, might cause the Philip­pines to lose some op­por­tu­ni­ties it might oth­er­wise take ad­van­tage of, in­clud­ing China’s boom­ing out­ward in­vest­ment.

Also, faced with changed in­ter­na­tional cir­cum­stances, the new Philip­pine gov­ern­ment does not solely want to de­pend on theUnited States. So, it is no sur­prise that the Philip­pines has at­tempted to re­viewits agree­ment signed with theUS on strength­ened de­fense co­op­er­a­tion and even de­manded US troops with­drawfrom its ter­ri­tory. The words and ac­tions of Duterte since be­ing elected pres­i­dent in­di­cate that the new­gov­ern­ment seems to be re­con­sid­er­ing the Philip­pines’ pre­vi­ous diplo­matic de­pen­dence on theUS. How­ever, the fea­si­bil­ity of this diplo­matic ap­proach re­mains to be seen. Prior to the es­tab­lish­ment of a new­gov- ern­ment, theUS will un­likely make a forcible re­sponse to the Philip­pines’ pol­icy change, the­o­ret­i­cally leav­ing space forManila to ad­just its pre­vi­ous pro-US diplo­matic pol­icy.

Mean­while, de­spite their di­ver­gences over the South China Sea, China and theUS still en­gage in ex­ten­sive co­op­er­a­tion, fromUN peace­keep­ing mis­sions and fight­ing ter­ror­ism to ef­forts to curb the pro­lif­er­a­tion of nu­clear weapons and mit­i­gate the ef­fects of cli­mate change, not to men­tion their eco­nomic col­lab­o­ra­tion and peo­ple-topeo­ple ex­changes. In par­tic­u­lar, the two coun­tries have main­tained un­blocked di­a­logue chan­nels and strength­ened se­cu­rity and mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion, such as a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing on mu­tu­ally re­port­ing their sig­nif­i­cant mil­i­tary ac­tions and aMOU on how they be­have at time of mar­itime and air en­coun­ters, both passed in­Novem­ber 2014. At the G20Hangzhou Sum­mit in early Septem­ber, Bei­jing andWash­ing­ton also reached con­sen­suses on such is­sues as the es­tab­lish­ment of a new­pat­tern of big coun­try re­la­tions, strength­en­ing coastal guard and mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion and en­hanc­ing their in­ter­ac­tions and se­cu­rity co­op­er­a­tion in the Asi­aPa­cific re­gion.

The Philip­pines has also shown its in­ten­tion to strengthen ties with Ja­pan in an at­tempt to strike a diplo­matic bal­ance and ac­quire more in­ter­ests. Ja­pan’s un­con­cealed at­tempt to con­tain China’s fur­ther devel­op­ment also leaves more space forManila to pur­sue closer po­lit­i­cal, diplo­matic, se­cu­rity and eco­nomic ties with Tokyo.

Duterte’s visit to China does not con­sti­tute a part of the al­leged strug­gle be­tween Bei­jing and Wash­ing­ton forManila. A bet­ter China-Philip­pine re­la­tion­ship is es­sen­tially ben­e­fi­cial to the whole Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. For the sake of re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity, theUS should sup­port Bei­jing andManila nor­mal­iz­ing their ties. The author is di­rec­tor of the China Ocean Strat­egy Stud­ies Cen­ter at the Shanghai Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences.

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