Did Duterte go back on his words after Beijing visit?

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/24 0:03:39

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte clarified Friday after returning from his trip to Beijing that when he said he wanted to separate from Washington, he did not mean a severing of diplomatic ties, but to no longer "dovetail the foreign policy" of the US. Some Chinese then claimed that Duterte changed his attitude immediately after he got loans from China, and they have even made jokes mocking the president's inconsistency.

The concerns are real. But they can be dissolved by Duterte's latest clarification about US-Philippine relations.

Whatever wording Duterte used in China to comment on the past Washington-Manila ties, Chinese diplomats don't expect that the Philippines under his presidency will take any radical turns in its relationship with the US, such as terminating their alliance or closing down US bases.

By refusing to "dovetail" the US foreign policy, Duterte has again demonstrated the new foreign policy of the Philippines. Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Saturday that the US remains the "closest friend" of the Philippines, but Manila wants to break away from a "mindset of dependency and subservience" and forge closer ties with other nations. These comments combined cement the significant changes that Duterte has brought to the geopolitical landscape in the South China Sea, but don't indicate any return to the previous diplomacy of former president Benigno Aquino III.

Few Western reports talked about Duterte changing tack after going back to Manila. US and Japanese media continue to express concerns about the improving Beijing-Manila ties. After all, Duterte is so different a president, and he likes to use sharp or sometimes exaggerated words to attract more attention. But so far he has shown clear and firm policy logic.

Duterte's endeavors to combat drugs and improve infrastructure and people's well-being in the Philippines are well supported by China. In this case, turning Beijing from a rival to a strong helper and partner to develop his country serves the political interests of his administration and also the national interests in the long-run.

It is those whose expectations are too high of the new Philippine president that believe Duterte went back on his words after his Beijing visit. Some others would rather see the rumors come true because they desire to prove that the Chinese government makes foolish choices.

In the South China Sea, US strategy has been dealt a blow by the Philippines' sudden shift while China can benefit from Duterte's new foreign policy. But China should not simply pin all its hopes on Duterte's unusual governance. China still has much to do to constantly expand its common interests with the Philippines and work for a complete turnabout in the South China Sea. 

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