Duterte – a sane man in times of madness
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte appears to be one of the few sane politicians left in the country. In particular, his Liberal opposition appear to be baying for war with one of the most powerful countries in the world, China. The Liberal hysteria that has effected politicians even outside the sensationalist driven opposition party has transpired over China’s exploratory endeavours throughout the South China Sea, which may include the exploiting of oil and gas reserves. While many are claiming that China’s exploration of oil in disputed regions of the Sea would draw The Philippines and China into war, such statements are not only deeply irresponsible, but they are totally unrealistic.
China is an economic behemoth and a nuclear superpower and while the Philippine economy under Duterte is propelling itself into a better future thanks to his infrastructure initiative ‘Build, Build, Build’, his tax reforms and his anti-bureaucratic/anti-oligarch measures, it would still be fantastically blind and foolish to dream of a country like The Philippines fighting and winning a war with China. Such statements are in fact so foolish that they verge on the insane, not least because through cooperation China can help enhance The Philippine economy through the mutual exploitation of South China Sea resources – something that Duterte has discussed with Chinese leaders on many occasions, much to the contentment of Beijing.
Understanding Duterte’s REAL South China Sea policy
Contrary to the conjecture from Philippine fake news media, Duterte has at no time renounced the 2016 UN arbitration ruling on contested Chinese-Philippine South China Sea claims, where the ruling ultimately went in favour of Manila’s historic position. What Duterte has acknowledged is that while China maintains its position, it would be foolish for a developing country like the Philippines which has suffered years of mismanagement, particularly under his predecessor Noynoy Aquino, to expend resources and provoke conflict over something that could be resolved to the economic benefit of the Philippine nation by pursuing a cooperative approach.
Realistically, China is the regional power with the material and economic capacity most readily available to begin an economically viable exploitation of the Sea’s multiple resources. Therefore, for the Philippines, as with most ASEAN states with claims to the South China Sea, there are two choices:
1. Alienate the world’s leading economic power and run the risk of costly and possibly deadly conflict over the Sea while also running the serious risk of falling victim to a wider Chinese-US conflict
2. Work on joint exploitation activities in the Sea with China, all the while incurring the good will of China which has the ability to pay massive dividends in the short and long terms in the form of investment into local economies and the prospect of playing a vital role in One Belt–One Road.
Duterte has used common sense, patriotism, fraternal pan-Asianism and economic foresight to make the correct decision. Duterte defined his rationale in a lengthy speech from the 26th of April where he explained that far from turning to hostility against the US, because the US is besotted with “its own problems”, it is natural to want to work with willing, ready and eager partners including China and also Russia. In respect of China, it would be impossible to develop healthy relations, not least due to extreme geopolitical distance in the 20th century between Manila and Beijing, without taking a cooperative and holistic approach to the South China Sea.
China luckily doesn’t fall victim to yellow journalism
Duterte has also made it clear that even in the unlikely event of a direct war between the US and China in south east Asia, it would be a foremost disaster for The Philippines as anyone with an even modicum of historical or geopolitical understanding ought to grasp.
While Duterte’s cooperative approach to the South China Sea issue has won acclaim throughout ASEAN including from Vietnman, the ASEAN member with the traditionally most cautious relationship with China, many within The Philippines continue to undermine Duterte’s policy by spewing fake news regarding threats of a war against China. Beijing is clearly well aware of the difference between fake news and Duterte’s genuine policies as China’s leading official news agency Xinhua tried to calm tensions by reaffirming the cooperative Sino-Philippine policy that Duterte has made possible.
This is why the mis-quotes and wilfully incorrect interpretations of statements made by Duterte and some of his colleagues in both Philippine and American media is not only shameful but dangerous. The media outlets famous for trying to undermine Duterte’s domestic policies are now trying to effectively lead the country into war by publishing fake threats against China which mercifully China is too intelligent to react to with anger.
A war based on fake news is part of the Philippine colonial experience
This of course would not be the first time that fake news media has tried to lead a country into war against the wishes of its own president. In the 1890s, newspapers owned by the infamous William Randolph Hearst busily agitated for war with Spain over the events in neighbouring Cuba, against the wishes of the business minded US President of the time, William McKinley. Hearst’s newspapers led a campaign of fake news regarding Spanish machinations in Cuba in an attempt to sway public option towards war.
In 1898 when an American ship, the USS Maine exploded and sunk in Havana Harbor, Hearst’s newspapers instantly blamed the sinking on Spanish aggression and quickly popularised the slogan “Remember The Maine – To Hell With Spain”. As subsequent enquirers made clear, the obsolete ship’s coal burning engines likely exploded due to a design flaw and the ship’s sinking had nothing to do with foreign aggression.
But at the time, the so-called “yellow journalism” of William Randolph Hearts and his rival John Pulitzer had forced the hand of an otherwise anti-war President and thus, in 1898 the United States declared war on Spain. This incident won’t be unfamiliar in The Philippines as it was during the course of the Spanish-American war that The Philippines went from being a colony of Spain to a colony of the United States.
Today, yellow journalism in The Philippines is a term used to described media outlets loyal to the Liberal Party of The Philippines, although the term’s double-meaning in the American sense of sensationalism (aka fake news) also clearly applies.
Those agitating for war with China will bring nothing but death, destruction and total economic collapse
Those trying to force Duterte into a war with China are in fact doing something far more dangerous than those in the late 19th century who forced US President McKinley into war. While at the turn of the 20th century, Spain was a crumbling empire and the US was a young industrial powerhouse, today it is China that is a militarily mighty industrial powerhouse while The Philippines simply could not win any war with China. The US knows this which is why Washington will almost certainly be happy to bully China, but not fight China, no matter how much certain myopic Filipino “journalists” would seek such a war.
Furthermore, if any of the pro-war yellow media in The Philippines think that a war with China would make fuel prices lower, the opposite is in fact true. Fuel would likely quadruple in price in the event of a war and this is a conservative estimate. By contrast, the possibility of working with China on energy exploration in the South China Sea is one of the best long-term solutions to getting much needed new resources of energy into the hands of ordinary Philippine consumers who are currently suffering with high petroleum and diesel prices because of recent increases in the price of Brent Crude.
Therefore, at a time when expensive fuel is clearly on the mind of many if not most Filipinos, the last thing needed is a war, especially a war with a country like China that can offer cooperative solutions to the issue of The Philippines being overly dependant on overpriced OPEC supplies. The Philippines has already made the correct move under Duterte in terms of seeking to diversify its oil supplies from non-OPEC states. The next logical step in such a process is working with countries like China and China’s closest partner Russia in expanding regional energy exploitation opportunities that The Philippines cannot realistically do alone but which can be done through respectful cooperation with new international partners.
President Rodrigo Duterte is not only a patriot but he is the best kind of patriot. He is a man who can put the best real world interests of his people before emotional outbursts disguised as nationalism. Duterte’s words are clear and yet many in the media, particular among the “yellow journalists” of this age, intentionally misconstrue his remarks. The fact of the matter is that any Filipino who seeks war with China actually is seeking the destruction of his or her own nation. By contrast, the model of cooperation that Duterte has pioneered will be good for the Philippine economy and will help lower domestic prices – something which Filipinos of all political parties ought to prioritise over death, destruction and economic collapse.