Philippines searching for friends
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been unhappy with the US presence in his territory for quite some time. He has openly stated he is desirous of the US leaving his country. However, there does not appear to be any intention to isolate itself from the global arena. It’s merely looking eastwards for alternative economic and political ties. Russia (ERUS) and Middle East nations are strong few prospects, but neither is as important as regional heavyweight China (FXI).
Duterte has already visited China once in the seven-months since his government took office and is scheduled to visit the nation again in May for a summit.
It is important to note that China and the Philippines were not on the best of terms previously. Both countries have claimed disputed territory in the South China Sea which has resulted in tensions since 2012. The US presence in the Philippines has provided it with advisory help.
However, the tense relationship with China seems to have thawed with Duterte pivot towards the nation.
On his visit to China in October, Chinese officials 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 in order to reach its goals of poverty reduction 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 ally who will not interfere in its domestic activities. Many international organizations and foreign nations have criticized the Duterte government for its death-squad like killings of drug crime suspects. However, China, which itself does not take comments on domestic activities lightly, has not disapproved of the actions. This works to the benefit of both countries.
In the final article of this series, let’s look at how things can pan out for the Philippines – both politically and economically – going forward.