President Duterte, accompanied by his Cabinet and daughter Sara who holds her father’s old job as Mayor of Davao, have travelled to the Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) where they held private meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other Chinese officials. Prior to the meeting, Duterte made it clear that while The Philippines will avoid any entangling alliances with any power, that China remains the most important partners partner for The Philippines.
In a clear reference to his desire to turn disputes in the South China Sea from sources of consternation into win-win collaborations between China and The Philippines, Duterte stated,
“I am into business. I am not going into war. We can postpone that war 100 years from now. In the meantime, I need the resources for my country to make the people comfortable and provide education for the children and food on the table.
“It’s one-stemmed and China and the Philippines will bloom, and you and I are in the middle of the flower”.
Adding that “I love Xi Jinping”, Duterte clearly set off on his trip to BFA with every intention on building the good will between Manila and Beijing that has existed since Duterte came to office in the summer of 2016. When President Duterte spoke with Xi prior to their private meeting he told the press,
“Mr. President, first of all, I’d like to say it again before everybody, including the Cabinet — that we are very happy about your reelection as President of the People’s Republic of China.
And we are happy also that we have maintained this relation and promoted it to a higher level of friendship”.
Duterte praised China’s cooperation with The Philippines in areas ranging from security partnerships to China’s investment in Duterte’s flagship “Build, Build, Build!” programme for infrastructural expansion and renewal. He also stated that without the 3,00 riffles that China gave The Philippines under emergency circumstances. it might not have been possible for the country to quash the Maute group during the The Battle of Marawi.
Duterte is sincere in seeking a 21st century multipolar nonalignment for his country, but he also realises that within this context, as the world’s most dynamic economic superpower which happens to share a wide maritime border with The Philippines, it is China that will be most central to the rapid development Duterte seeks for The Philippines. Duterte acknowledged this in saying,
“I would say I need China more than anybody else at this time”.
President Xi thanked Duterte for his words before remarking that while the last years have seen a bilateral relations take “two steps upward”, and that “The task of this year shall be upgrading the relationship”. In a direct indication that the current, warm relationship between The Philippines and China is primarily if not entirely due to the actions Duterte has taken and ordered”.
“A new chapter has opened in the bilateral ties since President Duterte took office”.
Xi indicated that he now sees The Philippines as both an important part of the One Belt–One Road global trading initiative, while he also agrees that The Philippines can be see as a friendly Chinese gateway to the rest of the ASEAN bloc of nations. In a clear sign of support for President Duterte’s “co-ownership” agenda in the South China Sea, President Xi said,
“China supports the Philippine government in exploring a development path in line with its own conditions.
We should continue to properly handle South China Sea issue, and discuss joint exploration, development and cooperation at an appropriate time, thus making the waters a sea of cooperation and friendship”.
While several bilateral agreements were signed covering Chinese economic investment in The Philippines while also broadening the scope of security cooperation, the real importance of the meeting was cementing a long-term partnership between The Philippines and China. The Philippines was recently rated the number one investment destination in the world, while China’s economic model seeks to work with developing nations both in Asia and beyond in order to create sovereign and corporate investment opportunities in the pursuit of win-win partnerships whose profits are shared between the Chinese investors and the developing nation that is the locality of the investment.
As a country that is rapidly expanding its infrastructure while modernising its tax structure thanks to Duterte’s crucial reforms, The Philippines is an ideal investment partner for China while the location of The Philippines makes the country’s ports ideal terminals for both regional and global Chinese shipping.
As President Duterte always emphasises, China never makes demands upon its partners, including The Philippines but is instead able to respectfully negotiate deals based on the mutual desires of each partner. Duterte has contrasted this to the politically meddling “strings attached” approach of the US, Canada, Australia and EU countries. Furthermore, it goes without saying that while China seeks good relations with all of the ASEAN members, the state which is the most proactive in respect of creating new initiatives with China, will be viewed by Beijing as China’s gateway to ASEAN. Increasing, such a nation is The Philippines over and above all others. This positive reality could not be more different than the atmosphere of suspicion often created by Duterte’s predecessors.
While these developments are geopolitical wins for The Philippines and China, in respect of domestic politics in The Philippines, these are personal victories for Duterte. The corrupt opposition to Duterte’s game-changing policies continues to be stuck in a time-warp where somehow it is thought to be beneficial for The Philippines to be hostile to a growing, wealthy and ever diversifying China. The idea that it is somehow beneficial for The Philippines to be anything but a respectful partner to China is essentially equivalent of rejecting vast opportunities in the name of egotism that does not serve the Filipino people in any way.
While being Sinophobic might get certain Filipino politicians invitations to elitist events in New York and Washington, Duterte’s approach will serve the long term needs of the people, long after Duterte and Xi’s names are in the history books rather than the news websites and papers. It is this long term strategic, logical and rational thinking that is part of the peaceful Duterte revolution to elevate the living standards of the Filipino people who for too long have tried their hardest only to be cheated by their political ‘leaders’.
Duterte is a man of the world abroad who is able to accurately and warmly communicate the needs of the Philippine nation abroad, while at home he is a genuine man of and for the people. This is the win-win mentality at its finest and future generations of both Chinese and Filipinos will recognising the relationship between Duterte and Xi as the genuine game changer it is.