What a Duterte government means for Sino-Philippine relations

Thus far, broad policy action plans announced by the incoming Duterte administration have been to make state visits to major powers such as China, Japan, the United States, and neighboring ASEAN states. Closer ties with Russia are also being eyed. With China in particular, a set of policy options are coming to the fore. First, the president-elect expressed openness to accommodating the “Deng Xiaoping model” or functional cooperation through joint oil development and direct bilateral negotiations with regard to the dispute settlement in the SCS. Second, the incoming president showed keen interest to engaging China more by tapping into China’s experience and technical expertise in building railways.

Lastly, the president-elect weighed calling for a “multilateral summit that would include territorial claimants and major powers such as China, Japan, and the United States to address problems with respect to the SCS. If one is to observe the incoming president’s domestic political behavior, he is one that fully understands the art of  negotiation and one that wants an inclusive and a pragmatic agenda. Correlating this with foreign policy behavior would suggest that the incoming president is inclined to maintain a certain degree of strategic flexibility in managing ties with both major powers’ China and the United States.

These announcements, however, would remain tentative and be subject to recalibration until such time that the president-elect has officially been sworn into power.

Great rejuvenation of Philippines-China relations?

To further constructive efforts to restore, deepen, and expand Philippines-China relations, both nations may work on a “Four Visions” plan to serve as a bilateral roadmap. First, ensure the Philippines’ participation in the One Belt One Road initiative (particularly the Maritime Silk Road) and active involvement in the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Second, uplift the level of bilateral ties to strategic partnership so as to increase the number of bilateral and institutionalized dialogue mechanisms at both senior and working levels. Third, bilaterally cooperate towards the establishment of an ASEAN Code of Conduct in the SCS and uphold the spirit of the Asian Security Concept (亚洲安全观), which features common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security. Fourth, jointly envision a “new model of major-small country relations” (新型大国与小国关系).

For China, these would affirm the following: its good neighbor policy (睦邻政策), its willingness to showcase itself as an economic opportunity, and allay fears or dispel notions of the “China threat” (中国威胁论) amidst a rapidly rising military power and intermittent strategic tensions in the SCS. For the Philippines, the Visions would signify its desire to reach out to China and support for China’s regional developmental initiatives, recognition of the need to compartmentalize strategic concerns and economic interests, and the use of smart diplomacy in balancing relations with major regional powers.

China had already forged strategic partnerships with SCS territorial claimants’ Malaysia and Vietnam. Therefore, there is no reason why the Philippines and China could not do the same. Accordingly, the new type of major-small country relations may also be one that could be based on – and one that would emphasize – win-win and expansive cooperation, mutual respect for each other’s core interests, non-confrontation and non-conflict, mutual restraint, and the avoidance of hostile and provocative rhetoric towards one another.

In essence, the realization of the Four Visions would demonstrate both countries’ sincere resolve to revive the condition of bilateral ties, promote strategic mutual trust, and strengthen multilateral and regional cooperation going forward. – Rappler.com 

Aaron Jed B. Rabena is a Doctoral candidate in International Relations at the School of Political Science and Public Administration (SPSPA) at the Shandong University in China.