Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte began his visit to China on Wednesday. Recently, strong opinions on the South China Sea issue inside the Philippines have increased, and the US has been urging the Philippines to take a tougher stance on China. Some in the US and the Philippines are thus observing Duterte’s visit from these perspectives. However, a larger theme of China-Philippines relations is strengthening cooperation. Whether Duterte’s visit will succeed depends on whether the two sides can make progress in this regard.
During President Xi Jinping’s state visit to the Philippines in 2018, the two countries signed major cooperation agreements, including one on joint development of oil and gas in the South China Sea, which is of great significance to the region.
Duterte’s visit is expected to further promote the implementation of this decision.
Since Duterte took office in 2016, he has changed his country’s pro-US route to a pragmatic South China Sea policy, greatly easing China-Philippines tensions. The new route has brought about rapid development of China-Philippines economic cooperation, made the Philippines a key country along the routes of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, and attracted more Chinese investment. The Philippines’ foreign relations have thus been reshaped.
Cooling down the South China Sea issue, promoting China-Philippines cooperation, stopping to serve as a US pawn in the South China Sea, and formulating the Philippines’ own geopolitical initiative undoubtedly maximize Philippine interests.
Duterte has more than once criticized the US for the latter’s attempts to make use of the Philippines as a bait – inciting Manila to confront Beijing on the South China Sea issue. This stems from his personal strategic awareness. It is also the country’s wisdom. Once the South China Sea issue is intensified, the situation will be unfavorable to the Philippines. And the US will never take responsibility for its “bait.” Duterte has made this clear.
But the Philippines copies the US political system. By hyping the South China Sea issue, the opposition is not aiming at benefiting the Philippines, but at expanding its own influence. Moreover, the US is desperate to reactivate the Philippines as a pawn.
Yet it is believed that China and the Philippines will continue to expand cooperation, no matter how much interference there will be.
Duterte won an overwhelming victory in the midterm elections in May, although the opposition fiercely attacked his policy toward China. This shows that pro-US public opinion does not represent the majority of the Philippine people.
The development of China-Philippine relations should be controlled by the two countries and peoples. It should not be hijacked by a few people or even by a third party.
In the US-launched trade war against China, Washington needs new leverage against Beijing. For the Philippines, maintaining its resolve is essential to protect its own interests. It is pathetic to be a pawn. The world’s geopolitical history has repeatedly proven this.