Duterte likely to tread lightly on Japan trip
Analysts doubt that Philippine president would change his stance on South China Sea issues
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