Oct 18, 2016

    US should not stand in way of better Beijing-Manila ties

    PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte's four-day visit to China, scheduled to start today, has drawn extensive attention from the international community.

    His government has made clear its priority to improve domestic economic conditions and people's livelihoods, and it wants to take advantage of Beijing's Belt and Road Initiative to help realise these aims.

    Mr Duterte also wants to break the diplomatic impasse with China over the South China Sea created by former president Benigno Aquino III.

    From Jan 22, 2013 - when the Aquino government unilaterally filed a case to an international tribunal on the Philippines' territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea - to July 12 when the tribunal ruled on the case, the Chinese government consistently made clear its non-recognition of the arbitration.

    The signing of a joint statement between the foreign ministers of China and Asean on July 25 - aimed at fully fulfilling the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea - also made the new Philippine government aware that the South China Sea issue is not the full picture of Asean's ties with China.

    Any obstinate confrontation with China, it believes, might cause the Philippines to lose some opportunities it might otherwise take advantage of, including China's booming outward investment.

    Also, faced with changed international circumstances, the new Philippine government does not solely want to depend on the United States.

    So, it is no surprise that the Philippines has attempted to review its agreement signed with the US on strengthened defence cooperation and even demanded US troops withdraw from its territory.

    The words and actions of Mr Duterte since being elected president indicate that the new government seems to be reconsidering the previous diplomatic dependence on the US.

    However, the feasibility of this diplomatic approach remains to be seen.

    Prior to the establishment of a new government, the US will unlikely make a forcible response to the Philippines' policy change, theoretically leaving space for Manila to adjust its previous pro-US diplomatic policy.

    Meanwhile, despite their divergences over the South China Sea, China and the US still engage in extensive cooperation, from United Nations peacekeeping missions and fighting terrorism, to efforts to curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons and mitigate the effects of climate change, not to mention their economic collaboration and people-to-people exchanges.

    At the G20 Hangzhou Summit early last month, Beijing and Washington also reached consensus on such issues as the establishment of a new pattern of big country relations, strengthening coastal guard and maritime cooperation, and enhancing their interactions and security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific.

    The Philippines has also shown its intention to strengthen ties with Japan in an attempt to strike a diplomatic balance.

    Japan's unconcealed attempt to contain China's further development also leaves more space for Manila to pursue closer political, diplomatic, security and economic ties with Tokyo.

    Mr Duterte's visit to China does not constitute a part of the alleged struggle between Beijing and Washington for Manila.

    A better China-Philippine relationship is essentially beneficial to the whole Asia-Pacific.

    For the sake of regional peace and stability, Washington should support Beijing and Manila in normalising their ties.



    The writer is director of the

    China Ocean Strategy Studies Centre at Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.