Understanding Duterte’s Position on South China Sea vs. The Interest of the West

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Recently, President Rodrigo Duterte has caused a massive stir when he announced his bold path to pursue an independent foreign policy that will allow him to negotiate with China regarding the Philippine Sea dispute without any assistance from the western allies. In addition, Duterte wants to break away  from the US’ “carrot and stick” policy  toward the Philippines, causing anger and criticism from Filipinos and the international community alike.

However, the Philippine Sea and South China Sea area is actually more important to the US and Europe than to the Philippines. Lying in that vast body of water is an international waterway where US$5.3 Trillion  in global trade pass every year.


Geography matters and China intends to have physical possession of the South China Sea. China has expanded or built up from the sea floor seven islets and reefs in the Spratlys, in addition to having occupied the Paracel Islands, also claimed by Vietnam, and seizing control of Scarborough Shoal, claimed by the Philippines. In 2012, China moved to greatly expand Sansha City in the Paracels in order to provide administrative control over its activities in the South China Sea, bolstering its claim that the islands are an integrated part of mainland China. Most importantly, these build-ups allow naval and air patrols, cementing an economic and administrative claim with military presence.

If China controls the whole stretch of the waterway, including overflight thereon, global trade to Europe and US will become more expensive. The adverse impact of it to the west will be very costly. This explains why US and Europe were supportive of the Philippines and they were all urging China to respect the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration favoring Philippines on our claim.

Perhaps the most concrete evidence of the U.S. intention to retain dominance in the Pacific is the initiative to position more equipment in Asia. Long used in Korea and Japan as a deterrent against North Korea, the U.S. Army “pre-positions” supplies and equipment in order to more quickly respond with deployments. It takes much longer to move brigades and divisions from the continental United States than to have people fall in on equipment only hundreds of miles, not thousands, from where it’s needed. Ostensibly limited to equipment that can be used in humanitarian relief missions, despite little Army involvement in Asian disasters, some plans have called for “heavy” brigades of equipment — tanks and artillery — to be pre-positioned also. These equipment sets are being considered for Vietnam, Malaysia, Cambodia, and Bangladesh. Beyond reducing response times, this activity set will further cement security relationships.

New security agreements with Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam are meant to show the commitment of the United States to the region. All three countries have suffered from aggressive Chinese strategic maneuvering.

Duterte’s position on the issue however, is not subservient to the West. When he declared that he is pursuing an independent foreign policy, he is bent on negotiating with China directly instead of becoming confrontational as the West wants him to be. Duterte is aware that our court victory is an empty one for lack of enforcement mechanisms on the decision. Neither the US nor the west and even any of the UN instrumentality can help the Philippines enforce that decision. It solely relies on China’s recognition for which it has already repeatedly rejected.

If Philipines decide to confront China by force, which country will come to help us? The NATO military arsenal cannot be stretched to the South china sea because its forces are confined to Europe in an attempt to contain the Russian military flexing in Europe and mid-east. Germany will never come to aid the Philippines because of its trading relations with China. France will be a reluctant potential ally because of the external threats it has been facing. Great Britain will never send its military planes to the Philippines because it has been courting China for trading relations as an aftermath of the Brexit.

If the Philippine government use diplomacy, particularly by bringing the issue to the halls of the UN and asking the members to enjoin China into accepting the decision, we should take note of the fact that more than half of the countries in the UN are having trading relations with China for which they cannot afford to severe ties with, much less with ASEAN. What we see here is purely “politics among nations” at work and Philippines must be careful on its approach and for which Duterte has shown a great deal of expertise in terms of diplomatic maneuvering.

Given such scenario, we are left with US and Japan at our side to help us in our confrontation with China. However, America is heavily indebted to China and the level of its trading relations with China outweighs any possibility for any war between the two. But the more serious question which should bug us is this: Is US really a true ally in this conflict? When Duterte brought out the issue on Bud Dajo Massacre in 1906, he wanted the Filipinos to revisit our alliance with the US in the light of his intention to adopt an independent foreign policy.

During World War II in 1941, we fought side by side with America where we lost more than a million Filipino lives. It was never our war, yet we were invaded by Japan because America was with us. After the war, US government helped Japan in its reconstruction efforts financially and economically until it became the world’s second largest economy next to US until to date. What happened to the Philippines as an ally which gave up more than a million lives defending America? While a minuscule of assistance were given to us since World War II, these were handed out with strings attached and were designed to continue US interference in our internal affairs.

Image result for us assistance to philippines

Now, America and its allies in Europe want to use us again as a pawn to serve its economic and political interest in the South China Sea – to keep that international water way navigation-free. On the other hand, our main interest in the area is fishing right as well as exploiting the rich mineral resources underneath. From all indications, China is mainly interested in the control over that stretch of international waterway militarily as part of its hegemony over the region.

Duterte believes that by negotiating directly with China using the decision of the court as our leverage, we can get most of what we want. However, Duterte believes that we cannot successfully negotiate with China if we remain under the shadow of Uncle Sam. Hence, the need to project an independent image to convince China that we are negotiating with them in good faith sans any influence from the West. This left US and Europe in quandary on how to protect their interest over South China Sea with the revolting posture of Duterte. The only way is to get Duterte out and replace him with a pro west Philippine President.

This partly explains why the West is anti Duterte and all forces including traitors from our country are now in global conspiracy to get him out of the presidency by using all sorts of issues to discredit him, e.g. his foul mouth, extra judicial killings, hitler image, and many more to come. For all of us Filipinos, including Anti Duterte forces, the President has just expressed a long overdue rebuke on the US shabby treatment to our country as an ally in the Asia Pacific. He wants US and Europe to treat us well as co-equal. America owed our country big time based on historical accounts and Duterte wants US to realize that and pay our country even with interest. If US made Japan as the second largest economy in the world post world war II and after all the damage Japan has inflicted US and our land, why didn’t US help Philippines as much as Japan if our country is a true ally?

Filipinos should realize that there is more to the issues of extra judicial killing and the foul mouth of the President as systematically magnified by the West and their collaborators in our country, including both local and international media. We should “look at the forest, not just the trees”. The West wants Duterte out of the presidency for his anti-west sentiments and for his refusal to protect the interest of the west – that’s the crux of the matter and that’s what’s behind all these shenanigans. It’s a grand conspiracy to discredit him internationally because of the massive support he enjoys from our country’s masses. It’s a clear imperialistic design concocted by the West and swallowed hook line and sinker by political prostitutes and opportunists of this country to serve their selfish interests – a grave act of betrayal against the sovereignty of our country.

People should understand that the USA, much like many superpowers, act on self-interest and competition in market economy, and not on peace and morality. Besides, to these big fishes, chaos is profitable.

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