Manila on the Chinese bandwagon

The Philippines becomes the first Indo-Pacific country to declare itself for Beijing

On the geopolitics of the Indo-Pacific, I have long argued that “the small- and medium-sized countries of the region will prefer a balance where no single power dominates over them. If they do not see this forthcoming, they are likely to join the stronger side.”

Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, appears to have decided that that stronger side is China.

“America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow,” he said at a business forum in Beijing on Thursday. “And maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.” [CNN]

There were indications of this for the last few months, but the manner in which he announced a “separation” from the United States, the Philippines’ treaty ally since 1951, could not have been more designed to ingratiate Beijing, his newfound benefactor. Mr Duterte calculates — correctly, in all likelihood — that China will now shower the Philippines with exemplary largesse. It is in Beijing’s interests to demonstrate that those who decide to join the Chinese side will be rewarded, as long as they are willing to ignore some trifling territorial disputes and international arbitration verdicts.

I have also argued that there is a Chinese wedge between ASEAN states that have a dispute with Beijing and those that don’t. That wedge has just gotten deeper and wider. The ASEAN agenda on maritime cooperation is now in question, as Philippines joins other pro-China ASEAN members in being uninterested in confronting China. Vietnam, in particular, will be under a lot more pressure.

The Philippines remains a pro-American country. It is also likely that parts of the country’s security establishment have deep links with the US armed forces. How Mr Duterte’s policy will go down with the people and the security establishment remains to be seen.

1 thought on “Manila on the Chinese bandwagon”

  1. In my view this is a Duterte decision more than a Philippines gov decision. At the moment Duterte was able to make this big strategic call is purely based on his local popularity. Philippines has very limited leverage over China now, its probably going to be showered with largess as mentioned with limited long term benefits. If Duterte was ‘breaking away’ from American influence he is going to be left with less relative autonomy in Asia. Duterte gamble is bound to fail in my view, as soon as the initial honeymoon is over for the electorate when they see there is limited change in crime and economic situation and if ever China pushes the boundaries again the S China sea Duterte will probably need American guns to protect him (rather Philippines). Foreign policy changes are not made from the heart but from the bank (ie economics). Philippines is not mature economy to make this drastic call a the moment. last point – china as a nation is not seen as favorably among its population compared to America, this matters in a democracy. Only nation that has a favorable view of the Chinese is Pakistan and I will not compare the two at this point.

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