Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has spoken before the 10th Biennial National Convention and 20th Founding Anniversary Celebration of the Chinese Filipino Business Club, Inc. (CFBCI), before an audience of Filipino and Chinese businessmen, as well as before Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines, Zhao Jianhua. During his speech Duterte offered the kind of honesty and straightforward talking that is appreciated by Chinese diplomats who do not care for the double-speak employed by so many governments that are afraid to state their positions.
While Duterte’s Presidency has seen historically good relations between Manila and Beijing which have been described by Chinese’s President Xi Jinping as a “golden era” of relations, Duterte has always been careful to describe the historic position of Manila vis-a-vis the South China Sea in frank terms.
A recent agreement Duterte made with China promised to renounce any violence or hostility relating to historic Philippine claims over part of the South China Sea. In return, China welcomed the development and stated that its relationship with The Philippines would transform from one of suspicion to one of cooperation in crucial areas of economic investment and on security measures, including in areas related to stopping the illegal narcotics trade. Later, Duterte welcomed Chinese intervention in fighting piracy in the Strait of Malacca and other waters throughout South East Asia.
In speaking before the Chinese ambassador, Duterte re-emphasised his message of peace, even though elements of the yellow/liberal media portrayed Duterte’s statements as violent and disrespectful. They were nothing of the sort.
Duterte has no illusions about what the South China Sea conflict is actually about. It has nothing to do with an ASEAN/China conflict (let alone a conflict internal to ASEAN), but rather the entire issue has been blown out of proportion due to the fact that the US wants to use and abuse ASEAN countries ranging from The Philippines to Vietnam and beyond, in order to provoke China. Duterte further realises that nothing good can come to his country from participating in a conflict between two superpowers.
Instead, Duterte has opted for realistic, but cautious relations with Washington, while opening new doors of economic and security cooperation with both China and Russia. Duterte’s model however is not just limited to the world’s three superpowers as Duterte has stated that relations with Malaysia will be centred around economic and security cooperation, while territorial disputes of the past will be put to the side. Under Duterte, The Philippines has also cultivated improved relations with other ASEAN members including Vietnam and Indonesia.
Speaking at Sino-Filipino event in Manila, Duterte stated,
“China [is] building structures and military bases. I must admit it. But is it intended for us? You must be joking. It’s not intended for us. The contending ideological powers of the world or the geopolitics has greatly changed. It’s really intended against those who the Chinese think would destroy them. And that is America.
Well, we can only be diplomatic. We can only be talking on friendly and civilized terms,” Duterte said. “We cannot go there, ride in our whatever, Navy, the gray ships, the Coast Guard and start waving our rifles. We cannot do that today. It is unrealistic. It cannot be true.
…Why will I fight? China is willing to talk”.
This is why President Rodrigo Duterte has become one of the most respected, if not the most respected Filipino leader on the world’s stage. Where his democratic predecessors often took a colloquial, small minded and unimaginative view of the world and while President Marcos was attached to the US military-industrial complex at the hip, Duterte’s independent minded policies have won respect for the Philippines in Moscow, Beijing, New Delhi, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and beyond. The fact that many in Washington and Europe are realising that they cannot take The Philippines for granted anymore is a further sign that Duterte’s multipolar policy which puts the interests of his people first, has forced many in the west to rethink their own colonial mentality and abusive posture against Manila.
China understands Duterte’s position and Duterte understands China’s position vis-a-vis the United States. While the yellow media in The Philippines tries to destroy Duterte by distorting his words or lying about his intentions, the wider world has come to respect Duterte for being honest yet flexible, pragmatic yet honourable, patriotic yet global in his outlook. This is the win-win model that The Philippines had needed for decades. It was not until Duterte that the country had the kind of leadership it long deserved.