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Philippines seeks common prosperity with China

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | October 19, 2016

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrived in Beijing on Tuesday on a 4-day visit that Beijing calls ‘historic’. We are about to witness probably one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the geopolitics of the Asia-Pacific since the Vietnam War ended. Philippines is the US’ oldest ally in Asia and Duterte is just inches away from dumping an accord that gives the US access to five military bases in the Philippines. The US’ rebalance strategy may never be the same again as long as Duterte, who took over on June 30, remains in power. (New York Times )

That Duterte chose China for his first visit outside the ASEAN region itself carries much symbolism. At least 200 members of the Philippine business elite are traveling with him, signalling the strong desire in Manila to form a new commercial alliance with China. Interestingly, one of the ideas mentioned is a deal with China to jointly explore energy sources in the South China Sea – to begin with in the uncontested areas closer to the Philippines known internationally as Reed Bank.

Manila sees this as an important confidence-building measure, with neither country making demands on the other on issues of sovereignty but placing accent on developing a more comfortable working relationship in ‘win-win’ spirit so that they can tiptoe toward discussing the more sensitive areas of the South China Sea in future in more agreeable setting. An equivalent, from the Indian perspective, might be to seek Chinese collaboration to develop our northeastern states lying adjacent to Arunachal Pradesh.

Ahead of Duterte’s arrival in Beijing, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has said that the state visit would be a ‘success’. Wang said China ‘highly values’ the visit. China has refused to accept the ruling by the arbitration tribunal at The Hague in July on the South China Sea and Duterte, on his part, has downplayed it. The western analysts who predicted doomsday scenario have been proven wrong.

Beijing disclosed at a media briefing on Tuesday that it will expand trade links with the Philippines, encourage businesses to invest there, and strengthen bilateral infrastructure construction and human resources training. A Commerce Ministry spokesman said in Beijing that preparations are actively under way for announcements on bilateral economic and trade cooperation during the visit.

In an interesting remark, a scholar with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Dr Zhong Feiteng told The Beijing News that as a big country with a long history, China is increasingly viewing its neighboring areas as a whole. “Beijing should take a long view when dealing with Manila,” he said. “(It should) see the Philippines as an important node in its 21st-century Maritime Silk Road initiative, and build a new maritime order that connects the East and South China Seas.”

In overall terms, we may expect that China’s approach during this visit would be to defuse tensions with the Philippines by promising economic support. A litmus test of the extent to which China is prepared to show goodwill would probably lie in Beijing giving conditional access to Philippine fishermen to waters around the disputed Scarborough Shoal. Analysts do not rule [out] such a possibility happening during Duterte’s visit.

Nonetheless, China too may choose to progress slowly on the track of dialogue and cooperation with the Philippines. The fact of the matter is that the US still enjoys a far better image amongst the people in the Philippines. A recent survey showed that only 22 percent of the people reposed ‘trust’ in China, while the corresponding figure for the US stood at 76 percent. Then, there are the entrenched interest groups among the elites who are not impressed by Duterte’s apparent foreign-policy ‘tilt’ against the US.

What goes against the US at the present juncture is also that with only a few months left in office, the Obama administration is hardly in a position to invoke its powerful lobbies in the Manila elites (civilian and military) to launch a vigorous rearguard action to shore up the alliance with the Philippines from Duterte’s relentless onslaught. Indeed, that respite leaves with Duterte a free hand to keep pecking at the alliance with the US at random without caring about a backlash at least until the next presidency settles down in Washington. And, of course, he does have a way of saying things that many would consider as unsayable. (Guardian )

Having said that, the bottom line is Duterte happens to be the democratically-elected president of his country and his people adore him. His approval rating currently stands at an incredible level — 90 percent. Read a report on Duterte’s interview with Xinhua news agency, here.

October 19, 2016 - Posted by | Economics | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Thank you for a very good post. I wish this tentative reach-out, currently in progress, every success.

    Like

    Comment by roberthstiver | October 19, 2016 | Reply


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