Philippine leader open to war games with China, Russia
by Associated Press
MANILAOct 18, 2016 - 12:00 am GMT+3
by Associated Press
Oct 18, 2016 12:00 am
After lashing out at longtime ally America, the new Philippine president is making a state visit to China in a charm offensive that will help define how far he wants to shift allegiance from treaty ally the U.S. to an Asian superpower locked in a territorial standoff with his small, impoverished country. It's a high-stakes gamble for brash President Rodrigo Duterte.
While he recalibrates Philippine relations with the world's big powers, his country's 65-year alliance with the United States — a key pillar of President Barack Obama's rebalance to Asia — hangs in the balance. China will likely move to regain lost ground in a Southeast Asian nation that won a major arbitration lawsuit against Beijing's massive territorial claims in the South China Sea just three months ago.
Duterte's desire to chart a foreign policy independent of the United States apparently stems from a variety of reasons, including the history of American colonialism in the Philippines. He was also angered by a 2002 incident in which he accused FBI agents of spiriting out of the country an American blamed for a hotel room blast in Davao city, where Duterte served as longtime mayor. More recently, he has told Barack Obama "to go to hell" in a speech after the U.S. president criticized his deadly anti-drugs crackdown. He has declared plans to scale back engagements with U.S. forces whose presence, he said, has inflamed Muslim restiveness in the south and has failed to help uplift his country's anemic military. "I am not a fan of the Americans," he said last month.
Duterte wants to make progress on the South China Sea territorial dispute between the two countries and expand defense cooperation with China, which could be a new source of weapons for the Philippines.
While China has expressed openness to Duterte's efforts to boost trade and seek financing for railways and other infrastructure, it remains uncertain if China will back away from its longstanding South China Sea sovereignty claims, including at Scarborough, where the Chinese coast guard continues to block Filipino fishermen.
China would be expected to applaud any diminishing of U.S. influence among Asian nations since that creates more room for it to increase its economic, political and military influence. Beijing was caught off guard by the U.S. "pivot" to Asia — of which stronger ties with the Philippines was a key element — so a change of course by Manila serves Beijing's goal of negating Washington's bid to shore up its influence.
Beijing is also eager to consign the Hague arbitration panel's ruling to history and resume its approach of discussing territorial disputes on a bilateral basis with the countries concerned. The ruling bore the spirit of multilateralism that would reduce China's relative heft vis-a-vis the other claimant countries and brought the sort of outside intervention that Beijing has long condemned.
Finally, warmer ties with the Philippines might also provide opportunities for the Chinese economy, particularly the newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that Beijing has backed as an alternative to the Asian Development Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other global financial institutions.