Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will visit Beijing from Tuesday until Friday to meet with his counterpart, Chinese President Xi Jinping, in hopes of strengthening relations between China and the Philippines.
Taking along 400 Filipino business leaders, Duterte will become the first Philippine leader invited to Beijing by Xi for one-on-one talks. But beyond this cool bit of trivia, Duterte’s visit is also important for its potential in changing the status quo behind China-Philippines relations and China-US relations.
China confirms Duterte visit amid strained U.S.-Philippine ties https://t.co/KmokLVlYg3
— Reuters China (@ReutersChina) October 12, 2016
From an economic perspective, Duterte hopes to strike business deals with China, particularly those aimed at building infrastructure. According to the South China Morning Post, James Dy, businessman and emeritus chairman of the Filipino-Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, confirmed the need for better infrastructure in his country, which China is often willing to provide. “China would help the Philippines build infrastructure and railways, hopefully easing Manila’s notorious traffic, caused by overpopulation and lack of public transport,” he said. As a specific case, the Wall Street Journal reports that Duterte wants Beijing to help build new railways on Luzon and Mindanao islands, two of the archipelago’s major island groups.
China also looks forward to strengthening ties with the Philippines. According to the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that Beijing hopes for the usual “normal relations on the basis of equality and mutual respect.” In accordance with this statement, China’s Foreign Ministry also announced on Friday that it supports the Philippines’ controversial anti-drug campaign and will collaborate with the Philippines in addressing narcotics problems.
Undoubtedly the most prominent issue concerning China-Philippines relations is the Hague’s ruling in July that China violated the Philippines’ sovereignty rights in the South China Sea. China has since completely rejected the international tribunal’s ruling, and several other Southeast Asian countries have also put the ruling behind them. Reuters reports that at a news conference in his home city of Davao on Sunday, Duterte announced that he would raise the international tribunal’s ruling with China, insisting that he would “not bargain” and that he would maintain Philippine sovereignty over the islands.
In strengthening relations with China, Duterte further adds to his string of vitriol against the United States. The US and various international groups have voiced their concerns over the killings of hundreds of suspected drug dealers and users in the Philippines causing the new Philippine president to say some not so nice things about his country’s former principal allies. Despite the American colonization of the Philippines in the first part of the twentieth century, the Philippines’s relationship with the US has been generally stable.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Li Jinming, professor of international relations at Xiamen University’s Research School of Southeast Asian Studies, voiced skepticism on Duterte’s continuing alienation of the US. Duterte is “right now distancing the country from the US, but some of that is just rhetoric. We don’t think he will or can cut the US off. We’d be curious to know how long these icy ties can last. It might just be a temporary thing,” Li said.
Meanwhile, the United States seems to be thinking the same thing, choosing to keep its head down and mostly ignore Duterte’s inflammatory remarks. With Duterte unwilling to bargain over the South China Sea, Washington doesn’t believe that the Philippines will be able to orchestrate any big deals with China.
Despite international condemnation, Duterte remains popular in his home country. Having already overseen a strong anti-crime campaign in Davao, Duterte said that he would do the same for the entire country. And so far, he has done just that. In addition, according to the New York Times, Duterte’s government has enacted several social projects:
His government has paved the way for indigenous people displaced by mining and logging to return to their ancestral lands, has committed to providing free irrigation to subsistence farmers, has suspended the operations of mining companies that violated environmental protection laws, and has begun a program of free checkups for the 20 million poorest Filipinos.
Looks like it’s shaping up to be an interesting week.
By Abby Ordillas