Rodrigo Duterte was reputed as a killer long before his election as president of the Philippines five months ago. He countenanced the slaughter of hundreds of drug addicts and dealers while mayor of Davao, the major port city on the rebel-infested southern island of Mindanao, and has applauded the arbitrary killing of upwards of 2,000 more druggies as president.
Duterte’s brutality, though, doesn’t mean he’s interested in battling China on behalf of his country in the South China Sea. In fact, he’s confounded strategists in Washington by appearing to disavow the historic Philippine-American alliance, aligning with the Chinese while tossing out agreements with the U.S. He’s saying, in effect, “Yankee Go Home.”
If his declarations are puzzling, they are easy to understand. Beyond the “nationalist” pride, beneath the bravado, Duterte’s disparaging remarks about the traditional U.S. relationship raise questions about U.S. power everywhere in Asia.
First off, would the United States, despite its heralded “pivot” to Asia, risk an armed clash with China in the South China Sea?
That question has significance not just for Southeast Asia but for Northeast Asia too.
Sooner or later, the U.S. may have to decide whether to defend the Japanese on the Senkaku Islands, claimed by China, in the East China Sea ― and indeed how far to go for South Korea in a second Korean War in which China would surely side with its protectorate, North Korea.
Duterte, by siding with China in his recent visit to Beijing, including a summit with President Xi Jinping, left no doubt that the ruling was a hollow victory. There’s no way the U.S. is going to go to war in the Spratlys. Nor, for that matter, is the U.S. interested in battling the Chinese for the Scarborough shoal, the rocky outcropping that lies within Philippine territorial waters north of the Spratlys and west of the main Philippine island of Luzon.
The Philippines may also come to terms on the Spratlys by acknowledging China’s grip on what it’s got while holding on to one or two islets. Definitely any agreement under which the Philippines yields territory to China will be humiliating, but how can Duterte win concessions that might be beneficial to Philippine fishermen?
Over that question looms the whole issue of U.S.-Philippine defense arrangements.
Now the future of the U.S.-Philippine alliance is up in the air. Duterte did say that he did not mean to “sever” relations with the U.S. when he spoke of “separation” of the U.S. from the Philippines, but obviously he does not see Washington as capable or committed to guaranteeing security against the rising power of China.
While shouting anti-American slogans, “nationalists” and populists should be careful what they wish for before kowtowing to Beijing.
Full article: Pax China: Manila’s capitulation sets ominous precedent for U.S. allies in Far East (World Tribune)