Philippines searching for friends

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been unhappy with the US presence on his territory for quite some time. He is desirous of the US leaving his country and letting it be. However, it does not intend to isolate itself from the global arena. It’s merely looking eastwards for renewed friendships. Russia (ERUS) and the Middle East are few prospects, but neither is as important as regional heavyweight China (FXI).

Duterte has already visited China once in his seven-month old government and is scheduled to visit the nation again in May for a summit.

It is important to note that China and the Philippines have not been on the best of terms. Both countries have claimed disputed territory in the South China Sea which has resulted in tensions since 2012. US’ presence in the Philippines has provided it with advisory help.

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However, the freezing relationship with China seems to have thawed with Duterte pivoting towards the nation.

China’s cooperation

On his visit to China in October, Chinese officials has pledged investments worth $15 billion in the Philippines, as per the finance department of Philippines.

As reported by Reuters on January 23, Beijing will cooperate with Manila on 30 projects worth $3.7 billion to reduce poverty in the Philippines. Reuters also quoted Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying as saying that “China supports president Duterte to lead the Philippines people in developing their economy.” Meanwhile, news agency Xinhua reported that Vice Premier Wang Yang had told the Philippine Cabinet delegation that there was a massive potential for trade ties between the two nations.

Why is Philippines befriending China?

During his visit to China, on being asked about President Trump’s economic policies, Philippine Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez was reported as saying that “I’m not sure at this moment exactly what the new U.S. policies, but I believe that the reorientation of our president to our neighbours really was very smart.”

If Duterte is indeed serious on moving away from the US, it has to look for a country with similar economic might to befriend in order to reach its goal of reducing poverty and catching up with its regional peers in terms of economic growth. China fits the bill nearly perfectly.

Another aspect which works for the Philippines is having a large and important friend who has no interest in its domestic activities. One thing common between the US, the Pope and former Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo is that all have criticized the Duterte government for its death-squad like killings of drug crime suspects. However, China, which itself does not take comments on its domestic activities lightly, has not disapproved of the actions. This also works to the benefit of both countries.

In the next article of this series, let’s look at how things can pan out for the Philippines – both politically and economically – going forward.

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