Duterte to visit China in coming weeks, in sign alliances may be shifting in East Asia


Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will visit China from October 19-21. Photo: AP


If Beijing and Manila can work together over such issues as fishing rights in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, the Philippines’ reliance on the US could erode further, analysts say

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte travels to China this month on a visit that could redraw alliances in East Asia after his incendiary comments about the United States and active courting of Washington’s chief rivals.

The friendly relationship between the Philippines and the United States has been one of the pillars of Washington’s strategic military rebalance to Asia under US President Barack Obama. But the alliance has been under strain since Duterte came to power three months ago and chafed at US criticism of his bloody war on drugs, which has led to the killing of more than 3,100 alleged drug users and dealers by police and vigilantes.

He has insulted Obama and then made it clear the Philippines would pursue a much more independent foreign policy than it has in the past.

That has included the Philippines extending an olive branch to China, despite the two countries being locked for years in a bitter territorial dispute in the South China Sea. Duterte has also spoken of reaching out to Russia.

“Ever since President Duterte took office, China and Philippines have been engaging in friendly interactions, which have yielded a series of positive results,” said Zhao Jianhua, the Chinese ambassador to Manila, at a Chinese National Day reception at the embassy this week.

“The clouds are fading away. The sun is rising over the horizon, and will shine beautifully on the new chapter of bilateral relations,” Zhao said.

Duterte plans to visit Beijing from October 19-21, and hold talks with both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. Diplomatic and business sources in Manila have said he will be accompanied by about two dozen businessmen, which could lead to deals being forged that could underpin any improved bilateral ties.

Despite the uncertainty, U.S. officials have maintained that all remains well.

“As it has been for decades, our alliance with the Philippines is ironclad,” Defence Secretary Ash Carter said on Thursday, speaking to American sailors aboard the USS Carl Vinson at its home port in San Diego.

But analysts think damage has already been done. “Officials in Washington must now be seriously worried about the trajectory of US-Philippine relations,” said Ian Storey, a South China Sea expert at Singapore’s ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.

“Especially military-to-military issues such as joint exercises and US access to Philippine bases, and whether Duterte will try and cut a deal with Beijing over the South China Sea that will allow China to advance its maritime claims.”

Full article: Duterte to visit China in coming weeks, in sign alliances may be shifting in East Asia (South China Morning Post)

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