Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte who this year pioneered a game-changing win-win cooperation initiative with Beijing regarding bilateral exploitation of resources in the South China Sea, has confirmed his overall support for the Belt and Road initiative on the eve of the Silk Road Business Summit in Zhangjiajie, China. In a letter sent to the 61 country member Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce (SRCIC), Duterte expressed his desire to work more closely with important Asian partners including China as part of his overall strategy to transform the economic future of The Philippines. Duterte stated,
“More than being a steadfast economic partner, China has provided various opportunities in several areas, such as infrastructure, livelihood development, and international cooperation. I have no doubt that our two countries have been working hand-in-hand to promote fair and competitive trade for a more dynamic and progressive Asia-Pacific region.
I commend the Silk Road Chamber of International Commerce for organising the summit where stakeholders can bolster the ties between our nations and explore other areas for productive cooperation. I trust that the participants will share best practices and nurture linkages that will further promote openness and inclusiveness in the region.
It is my hope that this event will strengthen our global community that is anchored on deep and mutual cultural understanding. Together, let us demonstrate our genuine reforms in trade and governance as we maintain our steady march towards sustainable progress”.
Duterte’s positive endorsement of Belt and Road and his move away from what he called the “colonial mentality” towards modern geopolitical non-alignment based on win-win bilateral relationships has strengthened not only Sino-Philippine ties but continues to serve as a model for ASEAN-Chinese cooperation in multiple fields including energy, trade, science, anti-terrorism, anti-narcotics trafficking, technology, the environment and South China Sea dialogue based resolution processes.
Duterte has clearly realised the foolish errors of his predecessors who often felt that a hostile and suspicion based relationship with China would somehow be for the material benefit of the Filipino people. The Philippine President has further realised that had The Philippines continued to act as a nation that encouraged Sino-US hostility in south east Asia, the possible violence that could result from such provocations would only hurt the lives of south east Asians including Filipinos rather than harm either China or cause any meaningful loses to the United States – both of which are nuclear armed military superpowers.
Duterte has instead embraced a policy of friendship with all and hostility towards none. Duterte’s warm personal relations with both Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump demonstrates that by rejecting the zero-sum mentality, The Philippines is now better placed than ever before to reap the advantages of good relations with multiple world powers.
The possibilities of greater international trade connectivity made possible through participation in the Belt and Road initiative represents the greatest opportunity for future generations of Filipinos to elevate their living standards and diversify the domestic economy. The Philippines has for too long been held back by the notorious 60/40 rule of the 1987 Constitution which prohibits all foreign partners from taking ownership in more than 40% of any project in The Philippines that they wish to invest in. This punishes not just Chinese investors but also Japanese Korean, Singaporean and American potential investors. Duterte’s tendency to favour constitutional reform makes the abolition of this reactionary clause all the more inevitable so long as the people of The Philippines realise the importance of such a repeal.
The Philippines should look to the diverse countries of the region from China to Malaysia and Singapore that through economic openness have developed a better life for their people. President Duterte’s embrace of new trading partners demonstrates that The Philippines is now more than ever ready to embrace a modern economic system of cooperation on a win-win basis with multiple partners.
As China already represents the world’s single largest national market in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) and as China is a leading superpower that is geographically close to The Philippines, it would be foolhardy for any Philippine leader to reject good trading and diplomatic relations with China in order to prove obscurantist points which belong to a past century.
As a President who looks to solidify a brighter future for his people, Duterte’s healthy relations with China should be viewed by Filipinos in the same light as Duterte’s good relations with his fellow ASEAN nations, with Russia, with India and with the US President. Win-win relations are about maximising the potential of all partnerships rather than rejecting any single partnership due to frivolous ideological claptrap.
President Rodrigo Duterte has firmly turned his back on the prejudices of the past and is embracing a multilateral future that will put The Philippines at the centre of a new global economic phenomenon known as Belt and Road. As a nation that is in the centre of south east Asia from a geographical perspective, this means that The Philippines is literally well placed to reap the advantages of being in such a position. President Duterte is clearly aware of this and his positive attitude in this respect should be celebrated throughout Asia and the wider world.