China should reciprocate Duterte’s overture

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/18 0:43:39

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte embarked on his state visit to China today. This visit would have been unimaginable three months ago when the Philippines, as an initiator of the South China Sea arbitration and a key pivot of the US strategy of rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, was in sharp conflict with China over maritime disputes. Duterte has made a fresh start with Beijing-Manila ties and the nation's regional strategies after coming into office, and thus is widely regarded as a "subverter."

Duterte's straightforward way of speaking and acting has made a deep impression on the world. He extended the olive branch to China soon after taking office, making China the first country outside ASEAN for an official visit and speaking publicly in favor of Beijing. Now it's China's turn to receive his olive branch.

Since assuming office, Duterte reprioritized national affairs, taking the public's attention from the South China Sea back to domestic governance. Meanwhile, he insists on Manila's right to an independent foreign policy and opposes Washington's excessive control over the Philippines, which has riled the US. The announcement of a suspension of Washington-Manila joint patrols and military drills has particularly rocked this alliance.

The Philippines plays a special role in the South China Sea situation. Manila is Washington's ally and the most ideal pawn for Washington and Tokyo to intervene in the South China Sea issue. Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino III provoked strongly as he was backed by the US and Japan. Washington also counts on Manila to acquire legitimacy to launch South China Sea joint patrols. Once the Sino-Philippine relationship is returned to a friendly track, the US strategy of rebalancing will be undermined in the South China Sea.

Some are suspicious of Duterte's sincerity toward China. However, Duterte's policy has clear logic. China is his best partner in the anti-drug fight and for infrastructure construction. He is realistic and clear that the Philippines is only serving the US China-containment policy if it goes against China on the South China Sea issue.

Duterte's understandings on the Sino-Philippine relationship reflect his left-wing political ideas. Whether he can resist pressure from domestic pro-US forces is key to the issue.

We call on China to grasp this major strategic opportunity brought by the Duterte administration. At the moment, China can make more efforts to facilitate the turnaround of the bilateral relationship. Beijing-Manila ties suffered an overall retreat during Aquino's rule. Two-way trade dropped, Chinese tourist groups to Philippines stopped and fruit imports to China were affected. Changes are now happening.

The Philippine media has focused on the issue of fisheries around Huangyan Island. Duterte, under great domestic pressure, is strongly expected by Philippine media to bring a breakthrough on the issue.

Sovereignty is non-negotiable, but China can adopt a flexible policy on the Philippines' fishing rights. Filipino fishermen fish on a shoestring and are unlikely to jeopardize the ecosystem of China's waters.

A flexible fishing policy will bring the Sino-Philippine relationship to a new stage. As a major power, China should express its goodwill to Filipino fishermen and their president at this time. Washington's strategy of rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific has increased China's diplomatic and economic costs in Southeast Asia, and it is necessary for Beijing to reciprocate Manila for its clear stance of not willing to serve the US' China strategy.

It is more effective to address the disputes in a friendly, instead of a confrontational way. China should make this clear to the world to win more respect in the world.



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