Tokyo can’t sway Duterte’s independent diplomacy

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/25 23:23:40

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte embarked on a three-day visit to Japan on Tuesday. Tokyo would like to take this opportunity to pull this president with a strong personality back, pushing him to repair the US-Philippine relationship. It is hoped that Duterte will at least utter different remarks to those he said in Beijing last week, so as to create an impression that Manila is still on the same side as Japan and the US.

But Duterte didn't give the Japanese such a space for fantasy. On the one hand, he praised Japan as a generous friend of the Philippines, on the other hand he continued his tirades against the US, claiming Americans are bullies. He said Washington could "forget" about an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement during his tenure, and accused it of treating Manila like a "dog with a leash."

Besides, prior to Duterte's Japan visit, the Philippine presidential spokesperson publicly stated that the South China Sea issue would not feature on the agenda, and even if it is referred to, "it would be on the sidelines."

As Manila's biggest trading partner and one of its major aid providers, Tokyo exerts a certain influence on Manila.

As economically important as it is, Japan has neither political prestige nor powerful security strength. Duterte is unlikely to welcome Prime Minister Shinzo Abe continually preaching at him on the South China Sea issue.

Duterte's diplomatic re-calibration has become quite clear. He has opted for an independent foreign policy. He has grasped the essence of the South China Sea issue - a strategic contention initiated by the US against China, and understood that the Philippines is merely being used as a pawn. Therefore he has been trying hard to lift his country out of this fate and start a new balance of diplomacy.

It's impossible for Duterte to completely sever ties with the US, but his independent foreign policy has taken shape. This cannot be swayed by Tokyo. Both the US and Japan need to respect the wishes of the Philippines to safeguard its own national interests. They should reflect on why a close ally has "betrayed" them on the South China Sea issue. 

During his stay in Tokyo, Duterte might say something pleasant to his host. But even so, it will be impossible for the Philippines to return to the Aquino era in which it closely allied with the US in confronting China.

Manila welcomes Tokyo's continual assistance, as it welcomes that from China. It also hopes to maintain an intimate relationship with Washington after gaining economic benefits from China.

Making friends with all major powers is probably what Duterte wants most for Manila's diplomacy.

Duterte doesn't want to waste time and energy on the South China Sea dispute. Following the US will lead to nothing but exhaustion of much of the nation's resources. After he turned to friendly negotiations with China, Philippine fishermen will soon be able to fish around the Huangyan Islands.

Duterte is masterful in strategic control. The result of his six years in power is likely to be that the Philippines has regained China, but it won't lose the US and Japan.  

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