Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte recently used a sardonic speech to mock the madness of his political opponents who somehow believe that The Philippines can or should militarily challenges China in the South China Sea. Duterte stated:
“There’s always America pushing us, egging us [towards war with China], ‘Go, go!’ They’re using me as bait [to get China]. What do you think of Filipinos, earthworms? Now, I said ‘Bring all of your planes, your ships [and attack] China, fire the first shot. We will be behind you.’ Let America declare the war. Let them assemble all their armaments there in the South China Sea. Fire the first shot and I’d be glad to do the next. Do you want trouble? OK, let’s do it”.
Here, Duterte invokes thought provoking rhetoric to mockingly challenge an unwilling US to make war upon China due to the legal issues surrounding conflicting maritime claims in south east Asia. Whilst the US is happy to provoke tensions between several ASEAN members (including The Philippines and Vietnam) and nearby China over South China Sea issues, even the most militantly anti-Chinese officials in Washington don’t wish to see a full scale war between the world’s two most powerful countries. As such, the US is not realistically going to fight China on behalf of any ASEAN member state including its traditional Philippine partner.
As such, Duterte has used a theoretical (though highly unlikely) situation to illustrate the fact that any military conflict between China and The Philippines would be a bloodbath that would also destroy The Philippines economically and even environmentally.
The idea that a war against an economically important partner like China would be totally counterproductive and extremely deadly has been a common refrain for Duterte, a leader who has repeatedly admonished his opponents who would risk the annihilation of the Philippine nation by provoking China militarily over maritime claims and claims to uninhabited islands.
In the spring of this year, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte confirmed his complete opposition to any military hostility against China. Speaking at the inaugural session of the new parliament in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), Duterte stated:
“I am being criticised about the South China Sea. Am I prepared to go to war? I am not. Will we win the war? No. It will just create a massacre. I would lose my soldiers and policemen.
If you attack China, its closest missile will hit Manila in seven minutes. Those fools want me to… We can’t do anything about it. That’s how it is. The United States will help???”
In spite of protests from his Sinophobic opposition, Duterte has long realised that a cooperative arrangement with a Chinese partner is preferable over an atmosphere of hostility trough which The Philippines will gain nothing. Beyond merely, cooperating on the exploitation of resources in the South China Sea, China-Philippine cooperation can also provide win-win benefits in other areas, particularly when it comes to President Duterte’s incredibly important war on narcotics.
Under President Rodrigo Duterte, The Philippines has entered what Chinese President Xi Jinping has called a “golden era” of friendship. Beijing has further confirmed that the last maddening gasps of Sinophobia among the disgraced old ruling elite of The Philippines will have no impact on productive win-win relations. But while Duterte continues to work with China on an equitable solution to South China Sea issues, there is a far more pressing issue facing The Philippines than the status of uninhabited Sea islands.
Recently, President Duterte has stated that in spite of the war on drugs, the narco-traffickers continue their assault on The Philippines. In an ominous wake-up call to the nation, Duterte stated:
“You can see the headlines — every day billions worth of drugs are entering the country. Look at the main screen and the crawler, the running news at the bottom. It’s always about drugs, drugs, and drugs. In the end, we will be like Mexico. We will be controlled by drug cartels. The Sinaloa has already entered the country and that is why drugs are being thrown in the Pacific. The same is happening in the West”.
Duterte further stated that while police offers are doing their best, in some parts of the country they are simply outnumbered by the narcos. Even so, Duterte said:
“If you destroy my country, I will kill you. You can be sure of that”.
The Philippines needs help in combating drugs and there is one country in the region that clearly has the resources and manpower to do so. China’s People’s Liberation Navy is capable of patrolling the seas around The Philippines in a way that no ASEAN country could do. As part of the ongoing drive for greater cooperation between China and The Philippines in the region, it would be deeply constructive for The Philippine Navy and the PLN to conduct joint patrols aimed at neutralising narcotics traffickers who for too long have been able to exploit Philippine geography in order to bring drugs onto Philippine territory.
Not only would such operations build stronger bilateral trust between The Philippines and the world’s most dynamic economy, but such patrols could send the narco-terrorists a clear message: their reign of villainy is coming to an end.
One of the reasons that south east Asia has become a hub of narco-terrorism is due to the fact that a lack of military cooperation based on past political divides has allowed the vast maritime borders of the region to be openly exploited. The Philippines is particularly vulnerable in this way because of the nature of its island geography.
By involving China in anti-narco operations, not only would the South China Sea issue be put into its proper context, but it would show all of ASEAN and indeed the United States that what matters in the region is not territorial claims over uninhabited pieces of rock in the sea, but instead, the key to securing a peaceful and prosperous future in the Asia-Pacific lies in the pooling of joint resources in a fight against the universal evil of drugs.
This would also help to end the black propaganda spread among some Sinophobes in The Philippines which rehashes a false narrative that Beijing is somehow complicit in the regional drug trade. Joint Sino-Philippine cooperation against drugs would likely see the apprehension of criminals from multiple states, some of whom would likely be tried and executed for their vicious activities in China itself.
The first duty of any government is to protect its citizens from harm and as narcotics and the violence it brings with it is the greatest threat to human safety, dignity and freedom in The Philippines. Because of this, all that is necessary must be done to combat this wicked scourge.
President Duterte has always been absolutely clear about this and as such, working with China to stop narcotics before the traffickers enter Philippine waters could represent the best way forward in the war against the evils of drugs.