Duterte likely to tread lightly on Ja­pan trip

An­a­lysts doubt that Philip­pine pres­i­dent would change his stance on South China Sea is­sues

China Daily (USA) - - TOP NEWS - By AN BAI­JIE an­bai­jie@chi­nadaily.com.cn

De­spite mount­ing pres­sure from Wash­ing­ton and Tokyo over Manila’s tilt to­ward China, Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte is likely to tread care­fully over South China Sea is­sues to avoid an­noy­ing Bei­jing dur­ing his Ja­panese trip, an­a­lysts said.

Duterte, who ar­rived in Ja­pan on Tues­day, is ex­pected to meet with Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe and Em­peror Ak­i­hito dur­ing his three-day visit.

The visit comes on the heels of his trip to China last week. Bei­jing and Manila inked deals on com­merce, mar­itime co­op­er­a­tion and other ar­eas. They also agreed to main­tain re­straint and en­hance bi­lat­eral ne­go­ti­a­tions over the South China Sea dis­pute, which had caused re­la­tions to nose­dive be­fore Duterte took of­fice in June.

Still, Tokyo has called on Duterte to raise the is­sue with China, ac­cord­ing to Ja­panese me­dia re­ports.

For­eign spokesman Lu Kang said on Tues­day that China and the Philip­pines are mak­ing joint ef­forts to re­store bi­lat­eral ties and other coun­tries should take pos­i­tive mea­sures for re­gional peace and sta­bil­ity.

While eco­nomics will be a ma­jor topic of Duterte’s visit to Ja­pan, it is likely that South China Sea is­sues also will be on the agenda, Duterte said on Fri­day.

“My talks with the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment, par­tic­u­larly the pre­mier (Prime Min­is­ter Abe),” Duterte said, would be mostly “eco­nomic oper­a­tion and of course shared in­ter­ests”. Those in­ter­ests, he said, could in­clude the South China Sea.

But Xu Lip­ing, a se­nior re­searcher on South­east Asian stud­ies at the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences, said that when Duterte meets with Abe, he is more likely to em­pha­size gen­eral prin­ci­ples, such as “main­tain­ing the law­ful or­der” rather than pars­ing sovereignty is­sues.

“Duterte’s at­ti­tude on the South China Sea is clear,” Xu said, not­ing that China and the Philip­pines is­sued a joint state­ment to ad­dress South China Sea is­sues via con­sul­ta­tion and ne­go­ti­a­tion.

Jin Yong, deputy head of the School of For­eign Stud­ies at Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Uni­ver­sity of China, said Duterte will not bend to the will of other coun­tries, in­clud­ing the US and Ja­pan, as he pur­sues prag­matic co­op­er­a­tion with China.

The po­si­tion taken by Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte on the US-Philip­pine al­liance is giv­ing the United States a headache. Yet what the US is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing now may be just the tip of the ice­berg.

Over the years, Manila has played the role of fron­trun­ner in the US’ strate­gic ma­neu­ver­ing in the re­gion. The obe­di­ence of the pre­vi­ous Philip­pine gov­ern­ment led by Benigno Aquino III to the US madeManila the most loyal ally ofWash­ing­ton in the Asia-Pa­cific, per­haps even the world at large.

Since his in­au­gu­ra­tion in July, Duterte has made re­marks which sug­gest he is un­will­ing for the Philip­pines to con­tinue do­ingWash­ing­ton’s bid­ding. In the most re­cent ex­am­ple, he de­clared his coun­try’s “sep­a­ra­tion” from the US dur­ing his visit to Bei­jing last week. Un­der­stand­ably, such words raised a lot of eye­brows in the US and the rest of theWest.

While US of­fi­cials have asked Duterte to clar­ify his words, many oth­ers have had lit­tle trou­ble in de­ci­pher­ing what the Philip­pine leader wants to say: Manila wants to shake off the pres­sure and trou­bles brought by its al­liance with Wash­ing­ton. This was ev­i­dent when Duterte clar­i­fied what he was re­ally say­ing was a sep­a­ra­tion of for­eign pol­icy after com­ing back toManila from his Bei­jing trip.

Though the Philip­pines has con­tin­ued to soften its re­marks and sought to re­as­sure the US that it will not break up the al­liance, it is clear the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment un­der Duterte is no longer will­ing to be used as a pawn in the US’ strate­gic re­bal­anc­ing to Asia, which has been widely seen as in­tended to con­tain China’s rise since day one.

As an ally with blind de­vo­tion to the US, the Philip­pines gained lit­tle in re­turn over the years ex­cept some sec­ond-hand US war­ships. Hence, a change of po­si­tion was just a mat­ter of time, and that time has ripened after Duterte took of­fice.

As long asManila con­tin­ues to seek peace­ful so­lu­tions to its ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes with China in the South China Sea, the prospects for bi­lat­eral co­op­er­a­tion are promis­ing, as Bei­jing andManila have pledged to deepen their re­cip­ro­cal co­op­er­a­tion in var­i­ous fields as the ice be­tween them be­gun to thaw.

The thaw­ing of China-Philip­pine ties not only helps re­store healthy re­la­tions be­tween the two neigh­bors but also con­trib­utes to build­ing peace and sta­bil­ity in the South China Sea, in which the US too has claimed a stake.

How­ever, the US should not lament the pos­si­ble loss of a de­voted ally as its mil­i­tary al­liance sys­tem no longer con­forms to the trend of our times. Forged after the WorldWar II and pre­vail­ing through the ColdWar era, the US global mil­i­tary al­liances bear such fea­tures as in­equal­ity and ex­clu­sive­ness, and are now out­dated.

In re­cent years, NATO, the big­gest mil­i­tary ally of the US, has dis­agreed with the US over global and re­gional se­cu­rity is­sues. The US mil­i­tary al­liance with Saudi Ara­bia and Turkey is ob­vi­ously in trou­ble now. Skep­ti­cism and crit­i­cism over the mil­i­tary al­liances within and out­side the US al­lies also grow day by day.

Un­der such a back­drop, the sen­ti­ments ex­pressed by Duterte bring to the fore such skep­ti­cism and could prompt other US al­lies to re­think their de­pen­dent re­la­tions with the US in the light of the chang­ing global political and se­cu­rity con­di­tions.

The US has re­lied on its global mil­i­tary al­liance with more than 30 coun­tries to bol­ster its global lead­er­ship and play the role of a world po­lice­man. when in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion un­der an equal foot­ing is gath­er­ing greater con­sen­sus in the world arena, the weak­en­ing of US al­liance sys­tem will only prove to be a nat­u­ral process.

Ro­drigo Duterte, pres­i­dent of the Philip­pines

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