Can Duterte decide Manila’s China policy?

Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/7 0:28:01

As the award of the pending arbitration on the South China Sea dispute is about to be announced, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he was open to talks if the result is favorable to the Philippines. Besides, he ruled out the possibility of armed conflict, saying his country is "not prepared to go to war. War is a dirty word." Duterte's statement is a rebuttal of many Western countries' call for the Philippines to take a tough stand.

The arbitration has become one of the most attention-grabbing topical issues around the world. The result will not only add up to the debate about maritime rights in the South China Sea, but also become a bargaining chip for geopolitical major-power games.

Former Chinese state councilor Dai Bingguo, at a workshop between Chinese and US experts on Tuesday, said the award will "amount to nothing more than a piece of paper" and China won't hold back even if the US sends all of its 10 aircraft carriers to the South China Sea. Dai's words show that China won't reconcile over its principle of non-participation in and non-acceptation of the arbitration.

The illegitimacy of the arbitration won't be whitewashed even with the endorsement from the US and its allies. China is ready to confront whatever challenges lie ahead.

If the US amasses military forces in the South China Sea to pressure China, Chinese society will support the Chinese government to deliver tit-for-tat countermeasures. China doesn't want the region to be the No.1 hot spot in the world, but it won't cower if it is forced to fight back. Nothing, even more destructive strategic weapons than aircraft carriers, will scare China away.

Even though the arbitration was filed by the Philippines, it will soon be knocked out in the post-arbitration landscape. Its petty position in the major-power game will simply make it an expendable player.

Washington's elaborate maneuvers in the South China Sea aim to squeeze China's space and make trouble for its rise. Washington has used Manila and Hanoi and some of their long-standing problems with China to serve this purpose. However, as more outside pressures step up, they will have less autonomy in dealing with Beijing.

Former Philippine president Benigo Aquino III outsmarted himself by scheming on the international arbitration with the help of the US. The action has actually cost the Philippines the initiative in talks with China. Washington, instead of being a help, has kidnapped the Philippines. The US has taken the Philippines' position as a helmsman in dealing with its relationship with China, and Duterte seems unable to change that as of now.

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