Duterte’s Short Hong Kong Vacation Demonstrates His Close Bonds With His Chinese Partners

After a turbulent week in Philippine politics that begin with intrigue surrounding the so-called ‘Red October’ would-be coup staged by the Liberal and Communist parties of The Philippines and a week that ended with The Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte stating that should his recent medical exams show that he has stage three cancer he would not seek treatment, The President along with his daughter Kitty and long time partner Honeylet Avanceña were pictured in Hong Kong taking a much deserved one day vacation.

In Facebook photos posted by Duterte’s special presidential assistant Bong Go, Duterte and his family were seen shopping and relaxing while no officials engagements are expected to take place.

While the day-trip appears to be a much needed break after a difficult personal week for Duterte’s family, the choice of China as the location of the vacation helps to illustrate much about Duterte’s own personal preferences which are indeed a reflation of his politics.

Of the many achievements Duterte has made in respect of foreign policy, his historic reconciliation with China is among the most important.  In so doing,Duterte has not alienated The Philippines from its traditional US ally, but instead has been able to turn Philippines into a model of non-alignment for a new era. As such, Duterte can already be named as one of the most important modern Filipino leaders.

Duterte’s Philippines has engaged in an historic rapprochement with China which President Xi Jinping hailed as a “golden era of relations”. By agreeing to work as partners rather than adversaries over matters concerning territorial and maritime rights in the South China Sea, The Philippines has been rewarded with a most-favoured position in the eyes of the leading superpower of the 21st century, China. This model has now been adopted by ASEAN insofar as according to a recent agreement between ASEAN and China reached at the recent Singapore meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, dialogue and cooperation were adopted as the way forward in respect of resolving South China Sea disputes between Beijing and several ASEAN states including Vietnam.

Investment from Beijing into The Philippines has already increased as a result and The Philippines looks to play an important role in China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Duterte has also developed historically strong ties with Russia and looks keen on cementing both a trading and security partnership with a Moscow that is eager to diversify its new partnerships throughout the ASEAN bloc.

Duterte has made it clear the era of a “colonial mentality” via-a-vis the United States is over. While the US Congress and state-funded American bodies disguised as so-called “NGOs” have taken a harsh line against The Philippines because of this, Donald Trump appears to have a warm personal relationship with Duterte that continues to develop. Because of this, The Philippines remains open to respectful trading relations with the United States, while clearly moving in a direction whereby China will become the most important trading partner for The Philippines. Russia on the other hand, will play an enhanced role in modernising the armed forces of The Philippines, thus reducing dependence on the US which has traditionally demanded a say in policy making among all states with which it maintains security agreements.

At the same time, Duterte has eased tensions with Malaysia, prioritising trading ties above long running territorial disputes, particularly in respect of Sabah. Duterte’s model which stresses cooperation over mutually beneficial trading and security initiatives with both traditional partners and erstwhile rivals is fast becoming the model for all of South East Asia.

While both Indonesia and Thailand are quietly increasing their trade with China, The Philippines under Duterte has taken a lead in articulating and implementing a model which stresses long-term cooperation with China.

Due to China’s status as the soon to be undisputed leading economy of the world and due to South East Asia’s regional proximity to the leading superpower, those nations which show a willingness to embrace the “win-win” Chinese model while abandoning the confrontational zero-sum model that the US has thrust upon much of South East Asia, will ultimately reap the rewards for doing so.

At the same time the Philippines models itself not as a Chinese “ally” but as a genuinely non-aligned state whose regional and global partnerships are designed to extract the greatest maxim of prosperity for Filipinos while minimising old conflicts. In this sense, the best trade that all nations can make is the swapping of territorial conflicts for agreements based on trade and cultural exchange. This model has been beneficial in minimising tensions throughout the world and while the US seeks to use the South China Sea as a means to sow discord among ASEAN members and between ASEAN and China, Duterte has proven that the opposite approach is the one which will result in mutually assured prosperity and increased diplomatic cooperation.

Beyond the South China Sea and trading issues, cooperation between The Philippines and China in the war on narco-terrorism has also stepped up while in March of this year, China defended President Duterte at the United Nations the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein defamed the Philippine President by suggesting he undergo a “psychiatric evaluation”.

In May of this year, 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”.

In this sense, while Duterte’s current one day trip to China appears to be centred around much deserved rest and relaxation, it cannot be discounted that he may have spoken to certain Chinese officials about the Red October plot bearing in mind that in May Duterte stated that Chinese President Xi Jinping is a true friend to law, order, security and stability in The Philippines.

As one of the hardest working Philippine leaders in history, Duterte may well have been seeking assurances to protect the Philippine nation even at a time when in public his visit to China was casual and personal rather then official or political.

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