The new Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has damaged diplomatic relations for his country with his bold anti-US attitude and warming of Sino-Philippine relations. The Philippine attitude towards China has vacillated heavily. Since the founding of the Third Republic of the Philippines in 1946, there have been six distinct periods in Sino-Philippine relations: 

The first period lasted from 1946 to 1960 when the Philippines adhered to anti-Communist party and anti-China policies, and thus was opposed to Chinese revolutionary rhetoric.

The second period began in late 1960 and ended in 1986 when the Marcos dictatorship fell. Under the Nixon Doctrine, Sino-Philippine relations began to thaw. The Chinese leadership took measures (such as lowering fuel prices to the Philippines in 1975) to promote economic activities and speed up the establishment of diplomatic relations. This was a steady, long-term process. 

Image by King Rodriguez/PPD from (image may be accessed through

Six months have already gone by of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. The Southeast Asian region is left with questions as to what the future might hold when the Philippines takes the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN in 2017. Since President Duterte took office on June 30 of this year, he has issued, and his aides have retracted, several foreign policy pronouncements concerning the big powers in the region – China and the United States  -- that could impact on ASEAN.

His predecessor President Benigno Aquino III’s foreign policy approach was outspoken in its criticism of China, and the Aquino administration won a case against China that it filed with an international arbitral panel to defend Philippine entitlements in the South China Sea. President Duterte, on the other hand, appeared to take a whole U-turn by re-establishing amicable ties with China and distancing itself from the US, in order to pursue an “independent foreign policy”.  It was during his visit to Beijing last October 18 to 21, that he announced the Philippines’ “separation” from the US in both military and economic terms. He also claimed that ‘US has lost’ and that the Philippines is now “realigning” with China.


The likely announcement by Philippine President Duterte of the Scarborough Shoal as an environmental marine sanctuary and off limits to fishermen could prove to be the first incremental step towards defusing the South China Sea disputes and in the process endow considerable strategic advantages to Beijing.

Pres. Duterte accepting the gavel that symbolizes the handing over of the ASEAN Chairmanship to the Philippines from Laotian Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith.  Malacanang photo, from ABSCBN News

On August 8, 1967, the five founding members (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines) of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed the ASEAN Declaration in Bangkok, Thailand that established the organization. ASEAN was driven by the desire of the states  to cooperate in economic, social, cultural, technical, educational and other fields, and to promote regional peace and stability. The ASEAN is grounded on the principles of mutual respect, non-interference, non-coercion, renunication of the use of threat or force, peaceful settlement of disputes and cooperation as declared under the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. In later years, ASEAN was joined by five more countries namely, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.1

Since then, the organization has come a long way. It has established free trade agreements within the organization and with some of its partners; enhanced agriculture, trade and tourism; and cooperated on different aspects like energy, culture, human rights, anti-trafficking of persons, cybersecurity, environment, disaster management, emergency response, and science and technology. During its 30th anniversary, ASEAN Leaders agreed on a shared vision of the ASEAN as an outward looking, peaceful, stable and prosperous region, bonded by partnership in dynamic development, and as a community of caring societies. It aims for establishment of an ASEAN Community consisting of three pillars, namely ASEAN Political-Security Community, ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community.2 With such achievements, ASEAN has become a high-profile and reliable organization that contributes to the stability in the region.