Duterte in China..”Only China can help us”
What has happened to the swashbuckling presidential candidate who six months ago said he would personally retake the Spratly Islands from China, riding out to sea on a jet ski to plant the Philippine flag on a disputed shoal? And what has happened to the foulmouthed commander-in-chief of a key US ally who only last month casually called his American counterpart a “son of a whore”?
Ahead of this week’s state visit to China, President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has washed out his mouth and prepared a new set of lines. He has talked of a key turning point in relations with China, promised to speak softly and praised China’s “good, sound policies, internal and external”.
Abandoning his jet ski threats, he told China’s state news agency Xinhua: “There is no sense in going to war. There is no sense fighting over a body of water…. We want to talk about friendship, we want to talk about co-operation, and most of all, we want to talk about business. War would lead us nowhere.”
This shift to conciliator-in-chief is all the more striking in the context of a relationship between the two countries which seemed to have reached rock bottom only three months ago when the Philippines won a massive legal victory against China’s claims in the South China Sea, inflicting great damage in the process on China’s reputation as a rising power willing to respect international law.
So why has the notoriously candid Filipino president suddenly decided that now, when it comes to China, discretion is the better part of valour?
It all comes down to a calculation about money. With mangoes thrown in. And a lucky moment.
The simple fact is that a clear-cut courtroom win against China, coming just after Mr Duterte took up office, has created opportunities for a new approach. China cannot take that legal victory away. And meanwhile in the nearly four years since the Philippines began its legal case, it has suffered economically as Beijing has frozen Manila out of the benefits of Chinese wealth. China has actively discouraged tourists, investors and importers from looking to the Philippines. With the legal card in his back pocket, Mr Duterte wants that economic chill to end. He sees no reason why the Philippines shouldn’t, just like most other countries in the region, have its cake and eat it – enjoy the economic benefits of China’s growth at the same time as sheltering under the US security umbrella.
In fact, given the four-year lag, and the bargaining power that comes from being the David who saw off the mighty Chinese Goliath in court, Mr Duterte has calculated that there is pent up potential to exploit. So this week he is visiting China with a business delegation several hundred strong, and when he meets President Xi Jinping on Thursday the two leaders will preside over the signing of deals in energy, infrastructure and tourism.
And there’s even tropical fruit among the low-hanging fruit for Mr Duterte to pick. Beijing has promised to increase imports of bananas, pineapples and mangoes, and crucially to lift a travel advisory warning Chinese tourists not to visit the Philippines. The Chinese ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua, has said the Philippines can expect up to a million Chinese tourists by the end of next year, bringing in revenue of $1bn. What’s more, China has promised to support Mr Duterte’s controversial battle against illegal drugs traffickers, and he will tour Chinese law enforcement and rehabilitation facilities during his visit.
Noting two million ethnic Chinese reside in the Philippines, Duterte said, “We might be asking for your help, asking the Chinese people to help Chinese people here. They are Filipinos but they are also Chinese. My grandfather is Chinese. It’s only China (that) can help us.”
His comments could be interpreted as a snub of the United States, from which Duterte has been distancing himself since he became president in June. In the interview, he noted China has been generous in promoting development in Southeast Asian countries, and offered gratitude to China for not criticizing his aggressive policy against illegal drugs in the Philippines, in contrast to some Western countries.
“So why has the notoriously candid Filipino president suddenly decided that now, when it comes to China, discretion is the better part of valour? It all comes down to a calculation about money.”
“His comments could be interpreted as a snub of the United States, from which Duterte has been distancing himself since he became president in June.”
yep..watch this space..