Presidency shift opens chance to thaw Beijing-Manila ties

By Su Tan Source:Global Times Published: 2016/6/29 23:43:00

Philippine president-elect Rodrigo Duterte is set to be sworn in on Thursday. The former Davao city mayor has attracted wide attention with his seemingly different mentality from his predecessor Benigno Aquino III in dealing with China, and this has rekindled hopes that under his governance, the Sino-Philippine relationship will improve after being strained by the Aquino administration.

The blunt president appears to want to distance himself from the US. Earlier this month, referring to any possible conflict between the Philippines and China, he asked US Ambassador Philip Goldberg "Are you with us or are you not with us?" Duterte is not 100 percent sure about the US' commitment. Hence John Schaus, a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, urged Wednesday that US Secretary of State John Kerry should be the first US cabinet official to visit Duterte after the latter takes office.

The US leadership and commitment to its allies have come under question by many, including Manila. It's time for the Philippines to realize that its disputes with China over the South China Sea are unlikely to be solved just by the ruling of The Hague-based arbitration court, which  will come out on July 12. The territorial disputes have to and can only be addressed through bilateral negotiations. There is no way out of a confrontation with China. After all, the Philippines, as an Asian country, needs to develop together with the rest of Asia rather than with the US.  

As a pragmatic president, Duterte is expected to focus more on boosting domestic development such as infrastructure and China's signal of goodwill has offered him the chance. But he still faces some opposing voices over the correct handling of the  territorial disputes. According to ABS-CBN News, last week the Philippine supreme court senior associate justice Antonio T. Carpio suggested a series of tough countermeasures that involve international organizations pressing China if Beijing doesn't comply with the arbitration ruling, which however contradicts Duterte's proposals. In this sense, Duterte has work to do to manage his officials and prevent them from undermining his efforts to thaw the strained Sino-Philippine relations.

China and the Philippines have sent positive signals to each other. Chinese President Xi Jinping congratulated Duterte right after his election win, and the Chinese ambassador to the Philippines was among the first three foreign envoys he met after winning the election. With the Philippine presidency shift, a window of opportunity has been opened for the Sino-Philippine relationship and Duterte shouldn't miss it.  

Posted in: Observer

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