World View: Philippines Leader Rodrigo Duterte in Comic Dance with China

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte in comic dance with China
  • Duterte’s statement generates backlash at home
  • Philippines president Duterte apparently cedes Scarborough Shoal to China

Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte in comic dance with China

Xi Jinping and Rodrigo Duterte meeting in Beijing last week (CNN)
Xi Jinping and Rodrigo Duterte meeting in Beijing last week (CNN)

Media headlines in the past couple of days have been saying things like “Duterte’s flip-flop into bed with China is a disaster for the United States” and “While we watched the debate, the Philippines aligned with China.”

The headlines are referring to the new Philippines president Rodrigo R. Duterte. He announced a cutoff of relations with the United States first by calling President Obama the “son of a whore.” Then he visited Beijing, where he was given a red carpet welcome by China’s president Xi Jinping, and made the following announcement to thunderous applause in the Great Hall of the People:

Your honors, in this venue, I announce my separation from the United States. Both in military… not maybe social, but economics also, America has lost. I will be dependent on you…

I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world — China, Philippines and Russia.

Americans are loud, sometimes rowdy. Their larynx is not adjusted to civility.

In a world where politicians are constantly making ridiculous statements, this isn’t the most ridiculous recent statement (pretty much anything from Vladimir Putin is worse), but it’s close.

For one thing, the Philippines does $24 billion in annual trade with the US. For another thing, the Philippines has a mutual defense treaty with the US which has been in force since 1951 where both countries pledge to come to each other’s defense in the event of an armed attack, and Duterte alone does not have the power to abrogate the treaty, nor would the Philippine people want him to. LA Times and Inquirer (Philippines)

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Duterte’s statement generates backlash at home

As I’ve been writing for years, it is a core principle of Generational Dynamics that even in a dictatorship, major policies and events are determined by masses of people, entire generations of people, and not by politicians. Thus, Hitler was not the cause of WW II. What politicians say or do is irrelevant, except insofar as their actions reflect the attitudes of the people that they represent, and so politicians can neither cause nor prevent the great events of history.

And in this case, the will of the people is pretty evident from polls conducted by Pew Global research: Among the Philippine people, 54% have a favorable view of China, while 92% have a favorable view of the United States. A recent survey shows that 55% of Philippines people have “little trust” in China, while only 11% feel the same about the United States.

In fact, Philippine senators crossed party lines and warned Duterte to back down. According to the Senate minority leader:

Any drastic shift in our foreign policy direction should be well-thought-out and not simply blurted out. It should be a product of deep study and wide discussion. Because of its far-reaching implications, it cannot be an announce now, study later thing.

Yes, our relations with the United States may not be perfect. But a country which has illegally built a great wall of sand in our seas is not, and far from, the epitome of a good friend either.

Other politicians called him a madman and delusional. Duterte’s spokesman “clarified” Duterte’s statement by saying that he just wanted to “separate the nation from dependence on the U.S. and the West and rebalance economic and military relations with Asian neighbors” like China, Japan and South Korea.

The Chinese people are skeptical as well. China’s politicians and media have remained mostly silent about Duterte’s comments, but people on social networks see it as a ploy to get investments and loans from China. Some likened his “separation” from the United States to a new social phenomenon in China in which people make use of fake divorces to get around restrictive regulations in order to obtain a second housing loan.

So Duterte’s announcement present an interesting case study for Generational Dynamics. China and the Philippines will never be friends, because their respective populations hate each other. It’s not the politicians who decide policies, but the people. Inquirer (Philippines) and Pew Global – Philippines – China and Pew Global – Philippines – US and International Business Times (Singapore)

Philippines president Duterte apparently cedes Scarborough Shoal to China

In his trip to China last week, Philippines president Rodrigo R. Duterte may have ceded Scarborough Shoal to China.

In its July 12 ruling on the South China Sea, the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration eviscerated China’s claims to the South China Sea, and said:

[The Tribunal] FINDS that Scarborough Shoal has been a traditional fishing ground for fishermen of many nationalities and DECLARES that China has, through the operation of its official vessels at Scarborough Shoal from May 2012 onwards, unlawfully prevented fishermen from the Philippines from engaging in traditional fishing at Scarborough Shoal.

China has been using its vast military power to build artificial islands and military bases in the South China Sea both in international waters and in waters that are part of other countries. In 2012, China forcibly invaded and annexed Scarborough Shoal, and used military threats to prevent Philippine fishermen from fishing there.

So when Duterte went to China to declare “separation” from the United States, many fishermen hoped that Duterte would regain access to Scarborough Shoal. But apparently Duterte didn’t even try. When he was asked about it, he said: “We cannot win that … Even if we get angry, we’ll just be putting on airs. We can’t beat China.”

Later, Duterte said: “I leave it to them to, it’s one of the things I said that in the private talks which I cannot, but tingnan natin [let us see]. Let us see what develops in the days to come.”

So Duterte really got nothing except promises. He got promises of loans and investments, and he apparently got a promise that China would allow the Philippines to do a little bit of fishing there.

We’ve seen the US administration concede one thing after another to Iran for the nuclear deal and to Russia for a farcical ceasefire in Aleppo Syria. Duterte is doing the same thing with Russia. For those of you who, like me, wondered for years how it was possible for Britain to appease Hitler, you’re seeing it happen here. This is how the world works. Defense One and International Business Times (Singapore) and Philippine Star and CNN Philippines

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Philippines, Rodrigo R. Duterte, China, Xi Jinping, South China Sea, Scarborough Shoal, United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration
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