Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte had his first four-day state visit to China between the 18th to the 21st of October 2016. A meeting was held on the 20th of October between China’s President Xi Jinping and Duterte, and Xi described the state visit of Duterte as a ‘milestone.’ The visit shows Mr. Duterte’s effort to reconcile with China and deepen the cooperation between the two states. In the meantime, Duterte claimed there is ‘separation’ between the Philippines and the US.
Several comprehensive agreements have been reached regarding trade and aid packages between China and the Philippines during the state visit. According to the HuanQiu News, the Vice-Minister of China’s State Council, Liu Zhenmin, confirms that China and the Philippines will fully re-start the bilateral committees, such as the strategy and security committee, economy and trade committee, agriculture committee, and science and technology committee. Moreover, China and the Philippines will re-start the conduction of bilateral communications from the state level to the grassroots’ level. Thirteen agreements have been signed on the 20th of October between China and the Philippines over various projects, such as economic cooperation, investment, agriculture, tourism, anti-drug, finance, maritime cooperation, infrastructure development, and grassroots’ communication.
The pivot point of the state visit was the South China Sea dispute as the Sino-Pilipino relationship has deteriorated during the past four years and reached the low point after the South China Sea arbitration. Liu Zhenmin confirmed that China and the Philippines have agreed to deepened the maritime cooperation and to resolve the South China Sea dispute through communication and cooperation. The signed agreement regarding maritime cooperation has covered cooperation at the coast guard level. Therefore, China claimed there is a starting point of Sino-Pilipino maritime cooperation.
Despite the agreements signed between China and the Philippines, Duterte further confirmed his tough stance on the US-Pilipino relationship. According to his speech on the 20th of October, Duterte said that the US has lost and it was ‘time to say goodbye.’ Duterte argued that the Philippines is a sovereign country and criticized the US for intervening in the Philippines’ domestic politics. Although the US claimed that it has not received any official statements from the Philippines that confirm the separation between the two, Duterte explicitly expressed that he would end the connections between the Philippines and the US, even in economic and military fields.
Duterte’s comments on the US further confirmed his dissatisfaction over the West’s criticism of his domestic politics and conducts, namely the war on drugs. Different from the Western states, China has expressed support for Duterte’s drug war by saying that it is a great effort paid by Duterte to maintain social security, stability, and order.
The further implementation of the signed agreements between China and the Philippines remains to be seen. However, the Philippines’ changing stance on China could have further implications for the US-led regional order and China’s relationship with other Southeast Asian states. The projection of the US power into the region could be affected as the Philippines consolidates its inclination towards China. Other dispute parties in the South China Sea affairs, such as Vietnam, may sway their stance on China in the future.
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