In a landslide victory on May 9, Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte was elected to be the next president of the Philippines. The 71-year-old Duterte – who has been called the “Donald Trump of the Philippines” for his propensity to spark controversy – pledged to reverse the current government’s foreign policy by engaging China in talks to resolve escalating maritime disputes in the South China Sea. Both China and the Philippines claim ownership over parts of the Scarborough Shoal and the Spratly Islands.
Duterte also promised to ride a jet ski to China-administrated islands and personally stake his country’s claims should negotiations fail to produce a resolution, so the world is closely watching to see how this potential flashpoint develops. In this Policy Alert, which is part of a series under the Sigur Center’s Energy and Maritime Security project, we explore the reactions of China, the Philippines, Japan, India, and Vietnam to Duterte’s electoral victory and its implications for U.S. policy toward Asia.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang hoped the new government would “meet China halfway, taking concrete measures to properly deal with [maritime] disputes so as to put the ties of the two countries back on the track of sound development.” Lu touted a historical friendship between Beijing and Manila that has been “hit by major setbacks in recent years, due to reasons known to all,” an indirect reference to U.S. support for the Philippines challenge to China’s maritime claims.
During the campaign, Duterte advocated multilateral talks with China to settle these claims. Lu said China continued to reject this approach in favor of bilateral negotiations with the relevant parties. Should those multilateral talks fail to produce an outcome within two years, Duterte promised he would consider bilateral talks directly with Beijing. He also signaled he was open to joint oil and gas exploration with China if Beijing agrees to treat the disputed waters as a “mutual corridor.”
Several commentators traced today’s strained relations between the Philippines and China to the U.S. foreign policy and the outgoing administration of President Benigno Aquino III. (more…)Continue Reading →