Pragmatist Duterte puts country first

By Jiang Wei Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/23 19:28:39

The Philippine's outspoken President Rodrigo Duterte shockingly announced his country's "separation" from the US during his recent visit to China. However, upon his return Friday, he soon struck a more conciliatory tone, stating that it's in the best interest of his country not to detach from its closest partner.

Duterte has used the South China Sea arbitration as a bargaining chip to gain political and economic benefits from China. Therefore his remarks have led to speculation that he is ungrateful. However, it indicates Duterte is a pragmatist who pursues an independent foreign policy. The predictability of the decision-maker matters greatly in a state-to-state relationship. What is predictable in Duterte is that he pursues the maximization of the Philippines' national interests. 

The president's China visit marks the restoration of the friendly relationship between China and the Philippines, during which the two countries inked 13 bilateral cooperation agreements and issued a joint statement. It's a diplomatic victory for China that the two have reaffirmed that the South China Sea disputes should be solved through consultations and negotiations and in a peaceful manner.

A reemphasis on seeking a political solution to the territorial disputes has not only allayed pressure China has been facing that demands it to implement the arbitration award, but also has put into effect the China-proposed dual-track approach and friendly neighborhood diplomacy.

The Philippines is the beneficiary of using dialogues and consultations to solve the South China Sea disputes. On territorial claims in the South China Sea, both China and the Philippines are unlikely to back down and compromise. If the Philippines insists on enforcement of the arbitration award, there will be likely to be a large conflict in the sea between China and the Philippines. But if the Philippines chooses to shelve disputes, it can seek more economic benefits from China, so as to develop its economy.

On Sino-Philippine relations, as long as China gives generous economic benefits to the Philippines and maintains the current status quo of the South China Sea, the Philippines will infinitely defer the implementation of the South China Sea arbitration award. It is predictable that China will maintain the current status quo of the South China Sea.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping held talks with Duterte, Xi said that as long as the two countries maintain friendly dialogue and consultation, the two can have a frank exchange of views on any problem, manage differences, discuss cooperation and temporarily put aside what is hard to reach by consensus.

Duterte's fishy "separation" speech expressed his strong dissatisfaction with the US. The Philippines is currently in financial straits, and the country is in dire need of investment to boost development. Many members of the US Congress have suggested that, if the killings in the Philippine anti-drug campaign continue, conditions for aid to the Philippines will be reconsidered.

It is not surprising that Duterte has changed his mind of separating from the US after returning home. Even if Duterte is dissatisfied with the US, the Philippines-US alliance remains strong.

US State Department spokesperson John Kirby said that the US is puzzled about such remarks by Philippine president. The American and Philippine people and the different levels of governments of the Philippines have a very close relationship. The US and the Philippines have strong military and economic ties. The two countries' Mutual Defense Treaty has not changed, and also the strong military to military relations. On the economic front, the US has offered multiple billions of dollars in aid to the Philippine people.

Moreover, it is very difficult for the Philippines to separate from the US in military and economic terms. According to the 1987 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines, the Philippines follows the pattern of separation of the three powers.

Duterte, as a head of the executive branch, will find it difficult to sway the US-Philippine Mutual Defense Treaty passed by Congress. The armed forces of the Philippines have a close relationship with the US, and its logistics, intelligence, finances and staff training all rely on US support.

The author is a lecturer with the Northwest University of Political Science and Law. Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion


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