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Duterte-led Philippines in search of new foreign policy course— analysts

October 06, 10:12 UTC+3 MOSCOW
President Rodrigo Duterte makes no secret of his intention to turn his back on the United States and the West in favor of partnership with China and Russia
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte with Philippine Army officers

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte with Philippine Army officers

© AP Photo/Bullit Marquez

MOSCOW, October 6. /TASS/. The latest surge in tensions between the Philippines and the United States, of which President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-US rhetoric is a clear sign, just as his intention to change foreign policy bearings indicate that Manila is in search of a new foreign policy course, polled pundits have told TASS.

This turn of events is certainly a great annoyance to the United States, for it upsets the plans for creating an anti-Chinese cordon and may contribute to an improvement of the Philippines’ relations with Russia, something the United States has been keen to prevent by all means. Some skeptics say, though, that Duterte will be unable to act on all of his pledges - due to Manila’s territorial disputes with Beijing and the presence of certain political forces inside the country that would like to go ahead with cooperation with the United States.

West finds Duterte’s manners shocking

Duterte, who rose to power last May on promises of a "political revolution" in the Philippines, has made quite a few loud statements, first and foremost, those addressed to the US leadership. Sometime ago he referred to US President Barack Obama as "son of a bitch," and last Tuesday he advised the US leader to "go to hell," adding that he did not care about the United States’ refusal to sell certain weapons to the Philippines, as Russia and China might provide sound alternatives. Also, Duterte declared the intention to create open trading alliances with Russia and China.

The Philippine leader’s emotional reaction followed western criticism of the extremely harsh methods the new authorities had taken against drugs trafficking.

In 2014, Washington, which had declared a policy of eastward turn with the aim of creating an Asian belt to contain China concluded an agreement on wider military cooperation with Manila. Now the military deal with the United States may be disrupted.

Philippine leader tells former ally he may set eyes on Beijing and Moscow

Duterte makes no secret of his intention to turn his back on the United States and the West in favor of partnership with China and Russia. As he previewed the schedule of his foreign visits, Duterte said that after China he might go to Japan and Russia. During the first months of his presidency he did not pay a single visit to the West.

"Duterte’s harsh statements indicate he has burned some bridges behind and is now determined to look for something new," says the director of the ASEAN Center of the Moscow state institute of international relations MGIMO Viktor Sumsky.

"It looks like he does not care what impression he may produce," he remarks.

"All of Duterte’s statements taken together are tantamount to a declaration of intent to change foreign policy bearings, but it remains to be seen what will come of it and what reaction will follow from the countries he may address with some proposals," Sumsky believes. "This has already had an effect on the overall situation in the region. The Philippines is a large country, with a population of 100 million, and it has always been regarded as an obedient ally of the United States. Now it will drop out to an extent, if Duterte’s efforts begin to bear fruit. This is certainly bad news for the Americans."

Tensions with US soar

"It is quite obvious that Duterte sees the United States not only as a country that intervenes in the Philippines’ affairs in a variety of ways and tries to lecture him on how he should go about the business of fighting against drug trafficking," says the chief of the Southeast Asia, Australia and Oceania Studies Center at the Oriental Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Dmitry Mosyakov. "He will perceive the United States also as a force that will never hesitate to put spokes in the wheel and support the internal opposition, whenever such an opportunity offers itself. For this reason he has opted for a policy that will minimize the risk some kind of revolt against him might be sparked in the Philippines."

"For the Americans Duterte is a bone in the throat, because he is out to upset US plans for planting a sanitary cordon of Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines in the way of what Washington refers to as "Chinese expansion." These plans have been quite obvious all along, anyway. The Philippines, which stretches from Indonesia to Taiwan, takes an exceptionally important strategic position. It can be regarded as a maritime gateway to Southeast Asia," he said.

Too early to make forecasts

"Russian-Philippine relations have been slow-going up to now, because any attempts at a rapprochement through some deals or trading projects or sales of military equipment were systematically torpedoed by the Americans. There are certain chances that in this situation relations may get better," Sumsky said. At the same time he believes that the future will depend a great deal on how long Manila’s new policy will last.

The same lack of clarity exists in Manila’s relations with Beijing, says the leading research fellow at the Vietnam and ASEAN studies center of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Far East institute, Grigory Lokshin.

"Duterte’s intention to drastically change the country’s orientation, curtail cooperation with the United States and establish friendly and constructive relations with China instead may cause a considerable change of the balance of force in the region," Lokshin said. "But no forecasts can be made at this point. The outcome of China-Philippines talks on issues related with Hague Court verdicts is anyone’s guess, because China does not recognize the Hague Court."

Manila in 2013 asked the Hague Court to consider the question if China really has the title over a number of islands the South China Sea’s shelf. The Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague last July rejected China’s claims to vast territories in the South China Sea, also contested by other Southeast Asian countries. The court’s verdict says that China’s natural resources exploration on the Reed Bank area violates the sovereign rights of the Philippines.

Lokshin expects that Duterte’s extravagance may soon vanish.

"Everything will depend on how much longer the people of the Philippines will agree to tolerate this. The US-leaning people will certainly not agree to put up with it for a very long while," he said.

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