New Philippines president may usher warmer relations with China
Global Times10.05.2016Read original
The president-elect of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, evokes the image of the US’s Donald Trump, with one big exception. Duterte, who rode a wave of populism to a general election victory on Monday, prefers a less hawkish foreign policy and has displayed willingness to work with China to resolve issues in the South China Sea in exchange for investment.
The polls opened on Monday for general elections, including the race for the president, in the Philippines. As of press time, Rodrigo Duterte, also known as “the Donald Trump of the Philippines” has assumed a big lead with 39 percent of votes, and is believed to have secured his position as the country’s next president.
The 71-year-old Duterte has been mayor of Davao City for over 20 years. But his remarks are far more aggressive than those of US presidential candidate Trump. He has claimed that if he is elected, he will eliminate corruption and crime in this nation within several months and execute 100,000 criminals and dump them into Manila Bay. Not long ago, Duterte even vowed to “forget human rights.”
Duterte has also left a strong impression that his concept of foreign policy differs greatly to that of President Benigno Aquino III. He opposes the idea of going to war with China, wants direct negotiation with Beijing about the South China Sea, and doesn’t believe in solving the conflict through an international tribunal.
The overwhelming support Duterte received over and above the other contenders suggests there is strong dissatisfaction in the country with Aquino’s six-year rule. Though the country enjoyed 6 percent annual growth for the past six years, the public failed to benefit from it. The electorate is also fed up with Aquino’s lopsided South China Sea strategy – siding completely with Washington which brought no advantage to Manila.
The public cares most about livelihoods and nationalistic slogans cannot feed them. It is reported that the 40 richest families in the Philippines own 76 percent of the country’s total assets. The country is afflicted with corruption and hereditary politics, and as punishment, the Aquino-backed candidate is languishing far behind.
It won’t be possible for Duterte to turn the domestic Philippine political arena upside down. Being only a mayor of Davao in the past years, he has no power to move the entire nation. He was obviously bragging when asserting he would eliminate corruption in six months. In an era of rising populism, it seems that a “big mouth” can always be popular wherever they are.
But if there is anything that can be changed by Duterte, it will be diplomacy. Many believe that whoever assumes office will adjust the nations’ unscrupulous policy toward China. If the new leader wants to manifest his or her difference from the previous president, as well as to make achievements, improving ties with Beijing is the shortest way.
China will not be too naïve to believe that a new president will bring a promising solution to the South China Sea disputes between Beijing and Manila. However, it sounds accurate that Philippine ties with China have already been through an all-time low during Aquino’s presidency. Only time will tell how far the new leader, be it Duterte or not, will go toward restoring the bilateral relationship.