It’s Time for a New Philippine Strategy Toward China
- Mark Bryan Manantan
In his most provocative statement yet, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte urged China to stay away from a Philippine-controlled island in the South China Sea: “I am asking you, I will not plead or beg, but I’m just telling you, lay off the Pag-asa because I have soldiers there. And if you lay a finger on them, it’s another story. I will tell my soldiers, prepare for a suicide mission.”
Known for his pro-China overtures, Duterte’s warning came as quite a shock. Since assuming power in 2016, Duterte launched a radical shift on the Philippines’ South China Sea policy — downplaying a favorable 2016 arbitration ruling, threatening to scrap joint maritime patrols with the United States, and pursuing joint oil and gas exploration — that saw Manila cozying up with Beijing, amid overlapping territorial claims. Acting out of sheer pragmatism, Duterte aimed to strike a compromise with Beijing rather than embroil the Philippines in a war against China, which it cannot win.