Photo: President Rodrigo Duterte with Chinese President Xi Jin Ping at the APEC Summit in Lima, Peru, 19 November 2016. Source: Presidential Communications Operations Office.
In Duterte's China Policy Shift: Strategy or Serendipity?, a new essay published in the Asia Pacific Pathways to Progress Foundation, Inc., Professor Aileen Baviera of the UP Asian Center looks at the closer ties between the Philippines and China under President Duterte.
"Can relations between Manila and Beijing truly have transformed overnight, considering how close the two governments came to the brink of outright hostility just a little over a year ago?, inquires Dr. Baviera, who teaches China Studies courses in the Asian Center, among others. "Can the definition of the two nations’ vital interests change so drastically that they can simply turn a new page in history and start on a clean slate? Or do the goals remain the same – even though the strategies taken by both sides have taken a significant turn?"
She writes that:
Duterte’s strategy of de-emphasizing and compartmentalizing, while not abandoning, the territorial and maritime issues, is a wise move that can pay off if done smartly. By delinking economic relations from management of the disputes, Manila can benefit from economic links with Beijing at a time when sustained high growth and investor confidence in the Philippines coincides with a massive drive by China to invest in global infrastructure buildup and trade, industrial and financial connectivity programs as part of the BRI. The challenge will be to see that China itself separates the two aspects of relations, since we have seen it try to use economic leverage in the past (via travel bans and suspension of banana imports) for political ends.
Duterte’s shift in China policy also reduces what used to be open disagreement within ASEAN over handling of the disputes in the relations with China, but at the same time forces some of the other stakeholders (including some who were free-riding on the Aquino administration’s efforts) to shoulder more of the responsibility to ensure progress on the issue, thus easing pressure on the Philippines.
Professor Baviera also notes that renewed China-Philippines ties must also be seen in light of three recent "serendipitous" developments abroad: the arbitration ruling in July 2016; the election of Donald Trump as US President and its impact on US-China relations; and the launch of China's Belt Road Initiative.
The UP Asian Center offers M.A. degrees in Asian Studies with four fields of specialization: Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, and West Asia. The Center also has an M.A. program in Philippine Studies that allows students to major in Philippine society and culture, Philippine foreign relations, or Philippine development studies. The Center offers a Ph.D. program in Philippine Studies in conjunction with the College of Arts and Letters and the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy. Get an overview of these programs. The Asian Center also houses a peer-reviewed, open-access journal, Asian Studies: Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia. It has published several books and monographs, and hosts or organizes various lectures and conferences.