Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently asked the country's defense minister to relocate the joint naval exercises with the US to an area away from the South China Sea. It was obviously regarded by the US media as new proof for Duterte's crude challenges of the status quo.
Although depicted as a layman in politics by the Western media and some politicians, the Philippine president is, in fact, very insightful in his perceptions of regional security.
During the recent five to six years, Asia has been agitated by a supposed China threat. The Philippine president contradicted this because he has perceived the essence of such agitation. The change is significant not because it indicates who the Asian countries choose to rely on politically, but because it initiates a new way of thinking.
In a popular theory, since a territory-based political relationship is formed among states, the security issue is on top of all international agendas. There is no authority above the state. In a self-serving anarchic system, security is the most important factor for survival. Thus, weak states should follow strong states, to seek an alignment or establish a balance of power.
This theory is the political foundation of the US' pivot to the Asia Pacific. The US keeps jangling the nerves of various countries with its adept geopolitical tactics, and the media is rife with steadfast signs indicating that conflicts over South China Sea, Japan, North Korea and Taiwan may break out at any moment, both of which lead to excessive concern for security issues in the region.
Should East Asian countries continue to develop through cooperation or defeating their rivals within the region by forming an alliance with outside forces? The answer to this question determines the common prospect of these countries. What the Philippines chooses is cooperation.
It is a habit of the US to view international affairs through the lens of military confrontation. However, security-related military policies consume a large amount of financial resources. As a result, some urgent social problems might be neglected.
The Philippines now focuses on the previously neglected social issues, such as fighting against drug trafficking and terrorism and developing the economy, and turns to China for help. Its policies are more in line with reality and public concern.
Some countries associate safeguarding the US' position in Asia with their own security. However, the policies carried out by the new Philippine government are completely different. Will its security be under threat then?
Obviously not. As the first batch of fruits of Duterte's visit to China, the Philippine fishermen can now fish in the once contested waters and $24 billion worth of investment and financing agreements have been made.
This, in fact, reflects a kind of Asian cultural custom of paying someone back with all sincerity and transforming the sincerity into actions. It has been a fine example of interpersonal communication for the Chinese people in history. This also proves that an even better result might be achieved if Asian countries discard the Western theories and deal with interrelations according to their own cultures and experience.
Mozi, the Chinese philosopher during the Warring States period (475-221 BC), advocated "regarding the states of others as one's own" and "loving others as one's self." It has been a longstanding tradition in China to put friendship above all else in its relations with other countries.
Now, China is a country that puts heavy emphasis on friendship. It has remained on friendly terms with neighboring countries for thousands of years. The very few clashes it had with neighbors were merely interludes in its long history.
The Chinese mind-set is totally different from the Western one, in which countries act based on the principle of self-interests and will never make self-sacrifice, so they keep regarding each other as enemies and competitors. The rising Asia needs to see the world with its own eyes.
Nowadays, although the most important connections among different societies in East Asia are still established through the system of states, yet how could the countries which had been colonies of the West use the hegemonic theories of the 19th and 20th centuries as their basis to cope with interrelations? If they follow those theories, a harmonious chord of civilized politics will never be played in their surroundings.
The author is director of the Jiangsu Lianyungang Development Research Institute and a visiting research fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. email@example.com