Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte arrives in China today for a highly-anticipated official visit aimed at bargaining business deals, but not South China sovereignty. In that effort, Duterte has a whole lot of nice things to say about China.
“My grandfather is Chinese… It’s only China (that) can help us,” Duterte told Xinhua during an interview published yesterday.
During the interview, Duterte spoke glowingly about China, which he said boasts “good, sound policies, internal and external.” In particular, he applauded China for its “generosity” and “commitment to” helping developing nations along.
During his four-day state visit, Duterte hopes to negotiate deals with Beijing in order to help strengthen Philippine infrastructure, as well as open up wider avenues of trade and tourism between the two countries.
The visit continues an apparent pivot by the Philippine president away from the United States and towards China. While the US and the European Union have condemned Duterte’s aggressive crackdown on the illegal drug trade that has killed thousands of suspected drug dealers and users, China has voiced its support for the controversial anti-drug campaign. For that, Duterte expressed his gratitude.
“Some other countries know we are short of money, (but) instead of helping us, all they had to do was just to criticize,” Duterte said. “China never criticizes. They help us quietly, and I said that’s why it’s part of the sincerity of the people.”
Of course, the elephant in the room during negotiations this week will be the South China Sea ruling. In the decision to a case brought by the previous Philippine government, a tribunal court in The Hague found that Beijing’s claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea were illegal.
Earlier this week, Duterte pledged that he would “not bargain” when it came to Philippine sovereignty in the South China Sea. In his interview with Xinhua, Duterte said that he preferred talking to fighting.
“There is no sense in going to war. There is no sense fighting over a body of water,” Duterte said. “It is better to talk than war. We want to talk about friendship, we want to talk about cooperation, and most of all, we want to talk about business. War would lead us to nowhere.”
Both China and the US remain skeptical about Duterte’s apparent pivot. 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 this week or in the future that will change the status quo in the region.
Meanwhile, Duterte also must answer to a Philippine public that trusts the US much more than it does China, according to a recent poll.
SWS SURVEY | Filipinos trust the US most, and China least. Indeed, how can Pinoys trust China which violates our EEZ? pic.twitter.com/JGyflp0Nuf
— Roilo Golez (@roilogolez) October 17, 2016