Will Duterte Completely Change Foreign Policies?

APD News, October 6, 2016 | 作者: Du Lan | 时间: 2016-10-10 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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Recently, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte hits the headline frequently. Last month, President Duterte cursed the American President Obama as a “son of a bitch” while taking to media. White House announced to cancel a planned bilateral talk between the two leaders during the East Asia Summit immediately.


Later, Duterte expressed his regret that his comments “came across as a personal attack” on the U.S. president. And President Obama said that he does not take President Duterte’s comments personally as it seems to be just a habit.


The two presidents shook hands and had a brief chat when they were waiting to take their seats at a gala dinner ahead of the East Asia Summit on September 8. The standoff seemed to be eased. However, at the end of the summit, Duterte delivered a “fiery” impromptu speech, showing a picture of the killings of American soldiers 100 years ago, and snubbed Obama that he is not entitled to criticize human rights situation of the Philippines. Apparently, the difference between the two presidents has not been worked out.


The cause of the dispute is the “war on crime” launched by Duterte in the Philippines. Since Duterte became president on June 30, over 2,400 people linked to drugs have been killed. The bloody campaign takes effect instantly and does not have strong opposition in the country, but has agitated human rights advocates abroad. Extrajudicial execution has become an obstacle in U.S.-Philippines relationship. Lately, Duterte even threatened to leave the United Nations in response to the criticism of his approach to drug crime.


Duterte has been known for “big mouth” since long ago. His performance during the election campaign earned him the nickname of the “Philippine Trump”. Duterte’s personality is very distinct, with many labels such as “socialist”, “the left”, “punisher” that are used to describe his tough political stance and style. Though massively controversial outside the country, the vast majority of Filipinos have expressed trust in and support for Duterte. A survey early last month showed that President Duterte won support of nearly 91 percent of Filipinos.


Since taking office, Duterte has given priority to infrastructure construction, for example, promoting highway construction across the country, and addressing flooding, airport congestion and other urgent problems. He has implemented a series of policies to stimulate economic growth, including reducing corporate and personal income tax, increasing investment in education, and so on.


The new government’s economic policy is effective, which is widely praised by the business community and investors. The Philippine government announced that GDP in the second quarter of this year grew by 7 percent, for the country to its highest level in the recent three years.


Drug-related crime is a malignant tumor of the Philippine society. Duterte has, in unequivocal terms, demonstrated his commitment to stand by his campaign-era promises to solve the drug problem as the first priority. Moreover, the recent tensions in the Philippines need an “iron-fisted” leader like Duterte. On September 2, an explosion in the night market in southern Philippines Davao City killed 15 civilians and injured 71 others. Duterte immediately placed the whole country under a state of lawlessness to prevent a second wave of terrorist attacks. Therefore, although some policies are criticized, Duterte’s tough and vigorous style generally conforms tally with domestic situation and people’s expectations.


In terms of foreign policy, unlike his predecessor, Benigno Aquino, Duterte is pursuing an independent foreign policy, which won popularity as well. The foreign policy now focuses on reducing reliance on the United States, and expanding Philippines’ strategic relations with fellow Asian countries, particularly Japan and China.


In recent three months, Duterte has frequently offended the United States. In addition to his recent insult to President Obama, he has also announced plans to terminate the joint patrol with U.S. troops in the South China Sea, calling for the withdrawal of U.S. special force troops from the southern Philippines, and expressing an interest in buying arms from Russia and China. Because of Duterte’s mistrust attitude toward the United States, the U.S.-Philippine relations are going through a period of adjustment. Moreover, as the former mayor of Davao City, Duterte maintained a robust commercial relationship with Japanese investors as well as close diplomatic ties with the Japanese diplomats. Just in August, Japanese foreign minister Minoru Kiuchi visited Manila, with Tokyo pledging more than $2 billion to infrastructure development projects in the Philippines.


In the meantime, “lower the high tensions with China” has become the priority of foreign policy of the Duterte government. Since winning the election, Duterte has met with the Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines for several times. He has deployed the Special Envoy, former President Fidel Ramos to conduct an “ice breaker” trip to Hong Kong after the South China Sea arbitration award issued, trying to explore ways to promote peace and cooperation on bilateral sides. Moreover, he promised not to raise the South China Sea issue on the ASEAN multilateral meetings, and expressed his wish to visit China within this year. When meeting with Premier Li Keqiang at the East Asia Summit, Duterte also expressed the positive desire to improve relations with China.


Duterte’s policy toward China is clear and pragmatic. He is wise to privilege economic development first while maintaining the Philippines’ sovereignty claims. He understands that at present, the most urgent problem in the Philippines is economic development, especially infrastructure construction, as well as oil and gas exploitation, which cannot be solved without China’s help. The Philippines heavily depend on imported oil and gas, and as domestic natural gas resources are about to run out, demand on foreign oil and gas will increase. Therefore, the Philippines must put aside the sovereignty disputes with China and jointly develop oil and gas in the disputed waters.


Duterte has publicly said, “China has money, not the United States.” He also told the Chinese-language newspaper in an interview that he hopes for more trade and economic cooperation with China, and the two countries should work together to develop offshore oil and gas as joint venture partners.


It is obvious that Duterte is rapidly emerging as the Philippines’ most powerful president in recent years. And this gives him significant leeway to shape the country’s domestic political landscape as well as foreign-policy trajectory for years to come.



Du Lan is a research assistant at Department of American Studies of China Institute of International Studies.




Source: APD News, October 6, 2016.