September 15, 2016
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte plays smart realist geo-politics–Pivot towards China
Even as the US pivots towards Asia, one of its most longstanding allies in the region appears to be turning away.
The developments come amid a broader fracturing of the geopolitical landscape in Southeast Asia in the face of deepening Chinese influence.
Relations between the US and Thailand — which Washington designates a “major non-Nato ally” — have cooled because of western criticism of the May 2014 coup launched by the ruling generals in Bangkok. Thailand said in July it would start a submarine fleet by buying three vessels from China at a cost of about $1bn.
Cambodia has received billions in civil and military aid from Beijing seemingly in exchange for its efforts to tone down ASEAN criticism of China’s territorial ambitions, while Myanmar has also drawn increased interest since the arrival this year of a new civilian-led government under Aung San Suu Kyi. On a visit to Beijing last month, she was told that China wanted closer links between the two countries’ militaries, state media reported.
Chinese encroachment on disputed islets in the South China Sea had for years pushed Manila and Washington into a tighter embrace, and in April this year resulted in the start of joint naval patrols — a development that Mr Duterte has now reversed.
Yes, back off, the US and its poodle Australia. Stop meddling in our internal affairs. For making their position on this very clear, I respect HE Samdech Techo Hun Sen of Cambodia, and now HE President of The Philippines Rodrigo Duterte for their stance as embodied in The Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in South East Asia (SEATAC). BTW, before becoming an ASEAN dialogue partner. the US signed this treaty. It is time for the US to honour its commitment. And keep Australia out of ASEAN.–Din Merican
“We are not cutting umbilical cords, but I also would not want to place my country in jeopardy,” said Mr Duterte, who has vowed to chart an independent foreign policy. The Philippine leader has also told US forces to leave the country’s Southern Mindanao island — claiming their presence is contributing to an Islamic insurgency — and has announced plans to seek military equipment from China and Russia.
It would not be the first time American troops were ordered off Philippine soil. In 1992, the US Navy was told to vacate the strategic Subic Bay, west of Manila, amid impassioned debate that the base was a remnant of colonialism and a symbol of foreign domination.
At the time, officials said the closure would not affect the “friendly and cordial relations between the United States and the Philippines”.
Nearly 25 years on, the rhetoric has decidedly changed. Speaking before last week’s ASEAN summit in Laos, Mr Duterte referred to US President Barack Obama has a “son of a whore” and threatened to further curse the American leader if he broached the topic of the Philippines’ “war on drugs”.
The comments prompted US officials to cancel a bilateral meeting between the two leaders in a spat that highlighted the challenges facing the US as it attempted to reorient towards Asia.
Meanwhile, Chinese officials have quickly — and warmly — welcomed the new policies of the Philippine leader, who as recently as April had pledged to confront Beijing by riding a jet ski to disputed islands.
“At present, China-Philippine relations are at a new turning point,” Liu Zhenmin, Chinese vice-foreign minister, told a delegation from the Southeast Asian nation on Wednesday.
The White House played down the developments, attributing Mr Duterte’s statements to his erratic temperament rather than a fundamental re-evaluation of the 65-year-old alliance.
The Obama administration was not surprised “primarily because of the tendency of this individual to make some rather colourful comments”, said a spokesman.
Additional reporting by Grace Ramos in Manila and Geoff Dyer in Washington