Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte told supporters and a group of scientists about to begin an expedition to the Philippine Rise (formerly Benham Rise) that Chinese President Xi Jinping has given him a personal assurance that Beijing will work to insure the stability and security of The Philippines. The Rise represnts one of the areas to be jointly explored by experts from both China and The Philippines.
Duterte recalled the following private conversation he had with Xi saying that,
“China will never allow the Philippines to be destroyed”.
Duterte further added that Xi sold him the following
“We will be there if you need us’. The assurances of Xi Jinping were very encouraging. Eh, they are there. ‘We will not allow you to be taken out from your office, and we will not allow the Philippines to go to the dogs”.
Duterte further commented on the different roles of China and the US in the wider world, saying,
“China said ‘We will be there.’ I’m not sure with the Americans because the Americans have lost their will to fight. They only have weaponries, cruise missile, maybe they also have a supersonic thing but the boots on the ground, the ones who will go there to fight, America is scared. They (Americans) are deathly afraid of death and they do not want to. They only know human rights… that’s why they are deteriorating”.
Duterte also said of the US,
“I’m sad to say but America cannot stand hardship. They will go to war in Afghanistan, then after the fight they will go back to the Green Zone and look for air-conditioned rooms”.
President Duterte clearly realises that the reality of the 21st century is going to be as he described – a situation where China is the go-to superpower for any support that developing nations of all sizes require. The US is becoming not only weaker in terms of its willingness to fight traditional wars, but geopolitically and economically, the US is now increasingly behind the Chinese superpower. As China’s economy continues to outpace that of all its rivals, China will soon be the undisputed superpower of the century.
Duterte has mastered the art of win-win multipolarity in an age when far too many commentators remain stuck in a regressive zero-sum mindset. President Duterte has adopted a policy of geopolitical neutrality in which he has publicly stated that The Philippines will not participate in the wars that are declared by and/or fought in the interests of other powers, whether large or small powers.
To this end, Duterte has engaged in a cooperative initiative to mutually exploit South China Sea resources with China, while he remains equally committed to avoiding participating in any pro-US provocations in the region. But instead of dumping existing treaties with the US in order to engage in new treaties with other superpowers, Duterte has instead opted to allow existing rights and obligations relating to the US to run their course all the while establishing positive security arrangements for the future with countries like China and Russia.
In doing so, Duterte has taken his country from one which was traditionally taken for granted by Washington and largely ignored by Beijing and Moscow, except for moments when Duterte’s predecessors challenged Beijing over the South China Sea from a position of humiliation and has transformed The Philippines into a country where all three of the superpowers are now competing for various cooperative initiatives in The Philippines.
In an age of multi-polarity, many important large and medium sized states are finding that rather than tying themselves into a single alliance or system of alliances, it is more beneficial to build important ties with a plethora of regional partners, all the while engaging in healthy relations on a case-by-case basis with all of the three superpowers. In spite of Turkey’s currently fraught relationship with the United States and its new security partnerships and trading partnerships with Russia, as well as intense engagement in China’s One Belt–One Road, Turkey remains a member of NATO. As such, Turkey is looking to purchase Russia’s new S-400 missile defence systems as well as America’s new F-35 fighter jets. The balancing act is at times difficult, but when embarked upon from a position of strength, something which clearly defines both Turkey’s President Erdogan and President Duterte, such acts of balance are not only possible but preferable to more constricting alternatives.
Likewise, Pakistan has officially declared a position of neutrality in any wider regional or global conflicts while Islamabad looks to build on its all-weather relationship with countries like China and Turkey, while at the same time restoring good relations with Iran, building a new strategic partnership with Russia and engaging in diplomacy with the US in spite of recent threats from Washington.
It is this model of looking ‘both ways’ diplomatically while implementing the ‘both ways’ model to ultimately safeguard one’s national interest that is the only realistic productive model for enhanced security and rapid development for large and medium sized nations in a multi-polar world.
More than any current leader of an ASEAN state, President Rodrigo Duterte understands that the only way to improve the safety and prosperity of the country is by forging partnerships not based on outdated ideological concepts of alliances but on looking to see which partner nation serves the interests of the Philippines based on a specific need or goal at a specific time.
In this sense, Duterte is getting the best deals for the country by courting a variety of partners, while being subservient to none. The Philippine President is intent on neutrality in disputes not directly involving his country and is moreover keen to make The Philippine government work first and foremost with international partners whose relationship can directly benefit the safety of and contribute to the prosperity of the Philippine people.
While this means that Duterte will continue to speak with many powers, as the 21st century is the Chinese century, Duterte knows where the wind is blowing and is sailing in the proper direction for his country and for all of ASEAN.