There’s a saying to never trust the Chinese because they are so mysteriously frugal with their dealings with people, that they are hidden maneuvering puppeteers whose true intentions are only seen when the dust settles. Since the turn of the century, however, China has shown to have taken considerable steps towards international diplomacy, and it is only the most logical that a re-alignment of sovereign principles be in order to secure long term sustainability.
President Rodrigo Duterte is a man of many things: a heartless non-humanitarian tyrant who cares only for the total eradication of drugs, an antiquated conservative sexist who is, at most times, clueless as where to put his mouth in. But if there’s one thing that he is not, it is a diplomatic fool with no sense of long term sustainable strategy. The president, greater than all those who have come before him, has been a brilliant international diplomat whose key cooperatives with Xi Jinping have positioned the Philippines in a situation it hasn’t been in since the Marcos era: The land of promise.
For the longest time, there has been a total dispute between the Philippines and China regarding the sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) issued a ruling of arbitration in favor of the Philippines. However, the country has yet to really benefit from it.
Despite Duterte, during his presidential bid, stating that he will “ride a jet ski” to the Spratlys “while bringing the Philippine Flag” if China refuses to honor the arbitration ruling, he has chosen to take the high road and instigate diplomacy with the Chinese instead. In place of continuing to aggressively fight them, he has chosen to try and use them as a way to China’s heart. While on first glance, the Philippines giving in to China may look like the wrong move, it is actually an ingenious move by the president that may payoff in the long run. The Spratly Islands rightfully belong to China.
There are many reasons as to why China is the true owner of these islands. The first, of course, is that the country is a lot stronger than the Philippines. If the two went to war right now, is there any other outcome aside from Filipino defeat? President Duterte knows this, so instead of fighting, he did what any smart diplomat would do: Give in. Second, the development of the Silk Road and the construction of facilities in the Spratlys positions China as the next word leader, eager to surpass, if it hasn’t already, the US.
Duterte has also put the country in a good position to not just escape China’s wrath, but actually become its ally. From giving up the Spratlys to allowing the Chinese to build a multi-million dollar casino on the shores of Boracay, the Philippines surely now belongs on the good side of China. And for Duterte, being on good terms with China means everything. Even though the majority may not think likewise.