Sino-philip­pine bon­homie here to stay

Global Times US Edition - - ASIANREVIE­W - By Zha Wen

Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s up­com­ing visit to China, which be­gins Wed­nes­day, has put re­la­tions in the spot­light.

Dur­ing his visit to the Philip­pines in March, US Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo re­in­forced the US al­liance with the Philip­pines, declar­ing that “any armed at­tack on Philip­pine forces, air­craft or pub­lic ves­sels in the South China Sea will trig­ger mu­tual de­fense obli­ga­tions un­der Ar­ti­cle 4 of our Mu­tual De­fense Treaty.” In ad­di­tion, a col­li­sion between Chi­nese and Philip­pine fish­ing ves­sels near the Liyue Tan (Reed Bank) in the South China Sea in June trig­gered a wave of protests against China in the South­east Asian nation. In such con­text, some Western and Philip­pine media out­lets be­gan to spec­u­late that Duterte would likely ap­ply pres­sure on China dur­ing his visit with the 2016 South China Sea ar­bi­tra­tion rul­ing, and that the “honeymoon” of China-philip­pine ties may come to an end.

How­ever, such spec­u­la­tion is noth­ing but hot air in­tended to dis­rupt China-philip­pine re­la­tions. Ac­cord­ing to the De­part­ment of Fi­nance of the Philip­pines, five agree­ments will be signed dur­ing Duterte’s up­com­ing visit to China, his fifth of­fi­cial trip to the re­gional pow­er­house since he took of­fice. The deals would cover trade, in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment, bor­der con­trol, etc and are meant to deepen co­op­er­a­tion between the two sides.

It should be noted that since Duterte was elected pres­i­dent of the Philip­pines in 2016, China-philip­pine ties have im­proved sub­stan­tially. Dur­ing Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s visit to the Philip­pines in Novem­ber 2018, the two heads of state de­cided to up­grade bi­lat­eral ties to “com­pre­hen­sive strate­gic co­op­er­a­tion,” which not only gave credit to the pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ment of bi­lat­eral re­la­tions over the past two years, but also laid a firm foun­da­tion for fur­ther co­op­er­a­tion in the future.

More im­por­tantly, the basic de­vel­op­ment pol­icy of the Philip­pines also un­der­scores the sig­nif­i­cance of Chi­naphilip­pine co­op­er­a­tion. In re­cent years, eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the Philip­pines has been on the upswing. Though con­fronted with inflation and un­em­ploy­ment, the coun­try is still one of the fastest grow­ing economies in South­east Asia. In­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment has played a crit­i­cal role in boost­ing its eco­nomic growth. Ac­cord­ing to Duterte’s plan, the Philip­pine gov­ern­ment will raise in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ment to 7.4 per­cent of GDP by 2022 from 5.1 per­cent in 2016. Con­tin­u­ously deep­en­ing eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion with China is one of the es­sen­tial ex­ter­nal con­di­tions to achieve this goal.

Of course, it is un­de­ni­able that the Philip­pines is still trying to strike a bal­ance in diplo­macy. Philip­pineus security co­op­er­a­tion is highly in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized, and is un­likely to change in a short time. But it is worth em­pha­siz­ing that the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion is quite aware of the US so-called security commitment. Es­pe­cially in the con­text of the in­ten­si­fy­ing com­pe­ti­tion between China and the US, the Philip­pines will han­dle its re­la­tions with the US more cau­tiously and avoid be­com­ing a tool for Wash­ing­ton to pro­voke China.

China-philip­pine re­la­tions are in no danger of go­ing into a tail­spin in the near future. Yet we should still make more prepa­ra­tions for the long-term de­vel­op­ment of re­la­tions. It was re­ported by Reuters in early August that “Duterte has a con­sis­tent ap­proval rat­ing of about 80 per­cent but the same sur­veys show people in the Philip­pines mis­trust China and want the gov­ern­ment to fight its per­ceived mar­itime bul­ly­ing.” This re­flects that many of Duterte’s sup­port­ers sup­port him more because of his social and eco­nomic poli­cies, but they may not agree with his China pol­icy.

More im­por­tantly, it also shows that many Filipinos have failed to un­der­stand the eco­nomic mo­ti­va­tion be­hind Duterte’s friendly China pol­icy and haven’t been able to rec­og­nize the eco­nomic benefits brought to the Philip­pines by China’s rise. Duterte’s po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents have re­peat­edly at­tacked him for his China pol­icy. In this sense, Manila’s pol­icy on China still has the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing “hi­jacked” by do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal rows, which is not con­ducive to sta­ble bi­lat­eral re­la­tions.

To pro­mote the long-term de­vel­op­ment of China-philip­pine ties, we can gen­er­ally make ef­forts in the fol­low­ing two ways. First, we should speed up the Code of Con­duct (COC) ne­go­ti­a­tions so that the con­sen­sus reached by China, the Philip­pines and other South­east Asian coun­tries on the South China Sea is­sue can be in­sti­tu­tion­al­ized. Se­cond, in the process of pro­mot­ing as­sis­tance and in­vest­ment in the Philip­pines, we should im­prove the trans­parency of projects and at­tach im­por­tance to lo­cal pub­lic opin­ion. Mean­while, in­fra­struc­ture projects with Chi­nese in­vest­ments should pro­mote lo­cal employment, so that or­di­nary people can ben­e­fit. The au­thor is an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions, China For­eign Af­fairs Uni­ver­sity. opin­[email protected]­al­times.com.cn

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu RUI/GT

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