In recent days and weeks, the conflict between the government in Manila and the People’s Republic of China over claims to sovereignty in the South China Sea, which has been designated as the West Philippine Sea in Philippine maps since autumn 2012, has intensified considerably. What was striking was President Duterte’s temporary dip from the public eye and his eloquent silence on this highly sensitive national security issue. Finally, at the beginning of the week, Duterte spoke out – following more political pressure than his personal conviction. And how!
During his Monday speech to the people, he said in a recorded televised address on April 19: “I will send my grey ships there to make a claim. I’m not so interested in fishing now, I don’t think there’s really enough fish there to argue about it.“However, when it comes to mining or “whatever is in the depths of the Chinese Sea,” Duterte continued, “I will also send warships if necessary to substantiate our claims.“But he would rather, the president summed up,” remain friends “with Beijing and” share whatever it is.”
In the past, China has repeatedly made claims to the entire South China Sea and fueled the territorial conflict by erecting artificial islands and installing military installations there. In a region where, in addition to the Philippines and the People’s Republic of China, the oil-rich Sultanate of Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Republic of China pursue property claims on Taiwan and Vietnam respectively, although Brunei, Malaysia and Indonesia have tended to exercise restraint in recent years.
Duterte’s current statements come from the defensive into which the president has maneuvered himself. Both generals and officers of the country’s Armed Forces , whose commander-in-chief is the president in personal union, and the growing crowd of critics and opponents of his policies are attacking what they see as Duterte’s “sell-out of national interests.” It belongs to the essence characteristic of the “Dutertismo” to announce to the very own style of politics of the President, big promises of publicity is effective to lay quietly shelved, and for any grievances or left behind shards other bunch always the Black Peter, and you, as the actually guilty to brand. It is therefore worth tracing the pendulum policies inherent in “Dutertismo” in this explosive foreign policy question.
Uninvited presence in Whitsun Reef
In the Philippine metropolis of Manila, a foreign policy issue is causing discontent even within the government of President Rodrigo R. Duterte, who has been in office since the summer of 2016. The latter likes to call himself a close “friend of China” and its President Xi Jinping. And he absolutely does not like it when this bosom friendship is doubted or even interpreted as kotau. But of all ministers in Duterte’s cabinet, Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin Jr., took advantage of a two-week dive by the president to protest against the extensive presence of Chinese ships in Whitsun Reef. Under the name Julian Felipe Reef, this reef is considered part of the Spratly Islands in the South China and West Philippine Seas, which is located only 175 nautical miles from the coast of the western island of Palawan and thus within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.
In March, more than 200 ships of the People’s Chinese maritime militia were sighted in the Julian Felipe Reef area, prompting Manila to protest against the presence of Chinese boats within the Philippines ' exclusive economic zone and calling on Beijing to withdraw the ships. Chinese diplomats, however, declared that the fishing boats had only sought protection from rough seas and that there were no militias on board. Defence Minister Lorenzana insisted on his criticism, adding: “The continued presence of Chinese naval militias in this area reveals Beijing’s intention to continue to occupy the Westphalian Sea. They have done so before in the case of the Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc and the Panganiban Reef, brazenly violating Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights under international law.”
Strong tobacco, which was also used in Stratbase ADRi, a think tank domiciled in Manila’s Makati financial district. During a recent virtual discussion organized by the Institute, its president, Dindo Manhit, said the ongoing and, in his view, deliberate swarming of Chinese naval militia ships in Philippine waters revealed Beijing’s expansionist ambitions and ultimately undermined the need for peaceful conflict resolution and stability in the region. A long-standing opponent of Duterte’s China policy, the now retired judge of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, Antonio Carpio, struck the same note, expressing concern in his contribution during the institute discussion that China’s latest move amounted to “repealing the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which it signed.“That,” Carpio added, " could create a state instead of a rules-based maritime order, which is enforced with cannons and based on the concept of ‘power is right’.”
Much ADO about nothing?
In all this, it must be borne in mind that the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague had already decided positively on 12 July 2016 several lawsuits previously filed under President Benigno S. Aquino III , Duterte’s predecessor, in the maritime dispute with the People’s Republic of China and concluded that China’s historical legal claims to the maritime territories within the so-called “nine-dash line” were unfounded and had no legitimate effect. A verdict which, in turn, rejected China as well as Taiwan and, piquantly, only met with clouded goodwill in Manila just a few days after Duterte took office.
The main reason for this was the president’s pendulum policy vis-à-vis China and his new “Manila-Beijing-Moscow axis” announced shortly after taking office in the summer of 2016 . A marked departure from the policies of all the previous governments of the Philippines, Washington’s only and former colonial possession in Asia , which the United States had released into independence on July 4, 1946. Not only” as the first socialist”, but also" as the first anti-imperialist", Duterte wanted to enter the annals of the Southeast Asian island state, which until then was regarded as the staunchest US vassal in the Asia-Pacific region.
In the spring of 2016, in the midst of the last Philippine presidential campaign, the then leading candidate Duterte, in his own machomaniac, had declared full-bodied during a press conference in Manila: “If I win the elections, I will ask our Navy to take me to the next point in the South China Sea that is bearable for them, and I will then continue on a jet ski. I will take a flag with me and when I reach the Spratly Islands I will put the Philippine flag there. I will then tell them clearly: Do you want a fight or a shootout?”
Cuddling with Beijing
As just recently elected president, Duterte’s tone towards the People’s Republic of China became milder, yes, almost submissive, from week to week. He now wanted to know nothing more about a dispute over ownership claims in the South China or Westphalian Sea. Such a conflict would cost too many lives, especially on the part of the Filipinos: “I am not stupid; China’s firepower is far superior to ours,” was Duterte’s dictum at the time. According to this guideline, he also directed his future actions and announced in mid-October 2016 during a three-day state visit to Beijing a “new era” in the form of a close relationship of his country with China at the expense of the old alliance with the USA. Yes, he even considered ending the US military presence in the archipelago and called then US President Barack Obama a “son of a bitch”.
During his state visit, Duterte was accompanied by 200 businessmen and the “harvest” was lavish from the point of view of all parties involved. The Chinese side pledged loans in the double-digit billions of dollars, funds to be used primarily for large infrastructure and energy projects as well as telecommunications. * “Build, build, build” * was also the motto from then on, whereby influential and stone-rich Chinese-born tycoons such as Dennis Uy from Davao City, who had financed Duterte’s election campaign significantly, made a splash.
Thanks to these connections, China-backed Dito Telecom, for example, was able to start commercial operations in the Philippines on March 8 of this year and even build mobile towers in Philippine military installations, which marked a milestone in Duterte’s goal of breaking the country’s long-standing telecom duopoly formed by *PLDT * and Globe Telecom. The new company plans to gradually expand into additional areas, including Metro Manila, in the coming weeks. The launch of Dito represents one of the largest Chinese investments in the archipelago. The telecom challenger, which had to defend itself in the Philippines against concerns about espionage by Beijing, is 60 percent owned by Dennis Uy, who also serves as CEO of Dito. The remaining 40 percent belongs to the state China Telecom, the limit for foreign investment in the Philippine telecommunications sector. What is also striking is that Uy also has a majority in the company TIM-Smartmatic, which is responsible for counting the votes in the next automated elections in May next year.
Continue Uncle Sam’s docile " Little Brown Brother"
Despite all the rhetoric critical of America, Duterte – especially during the term of Donald Trump – remained on course from Washington’s point of view. A set of contractual rules, consisting of the Common Defense Pact of 1951, the Visiting Forces Agreement of 1999, and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement of 2014, ensured the steady presence of U.S. military personnel on a rotational basis in facilities of the Philippine Armed Forces . And between 2016 and 2019 alone, the United States provided Manila with 554 million dollars in military aid.
For the USA, the South China and West Philippine Seas are and will remain of outstanding importance for geostrategic reasons and due to the immense wealth of raw materials. Since this area lies directly at “the back door of China”, a permanent conflict with a tendency to escalate quickly with the political leadership in Beijing is programmed. Moreover, it is probably the world’s most important waterway and sea route, which in earlier centuries were as important for vital regional trade and in the later colonial empire of Western imperialist powers as they are today for the supply of the booming industries of China, South Korea and Japan.
Contrary to Duterte’s announcement to cut the regular joint US-Philippine military maneuvers “Balikatan”, this year’s exercises took place from 12 to 25 April of all days. * Balikatan * is intended to test the military’s readiness to respond to threats such as natural disasters and attacks by militant extremists. In contrast to earlier maneuvers of this kind with about 7,600 men, according to Chief of the General Staff Cirilito Sobejana, the current exercises took place with only 1,700 soldiers.
Last year, Duterte quit the two-decade-old VFA in an angry reaction after a close ally, former police chief and now Senator Ronald Dela Rosa, was denied a US visa. Washington refused the visa application because dela Rosa was one of the main architects of the numerous extrajudicial killings in the “anti-drug war” at the beginning of Duterte’s term. However, the VFA withdrawal period has been extended twice, which Philippine officials believe is a window of opportunity to agree better pecuniary terms. Duterte insisted that Washington would have to pay more if it wanted to maintain the VFA, which, of course, was ridiculed there rather wearily. In addition, US President Donald Trump last summer approved two potential sales of combat helicopters worth nearly two billion dollars to the Philippines.
Last but not least, there is a quasi “natural” cooperation between Manila and Washington, especially regarding the traditional training and training of high - ranking AFP and police officers at US military academies and police colleges. No wonder that for some of these officers and generals Duterte’s China policy became increasingly unbearable. In any case, their criticism has now also leaked into the president’s ears. Because in his aforementioned speech to the population on 19. On April 22, Duterte spoke openly about the possibility of resigning if the AFP and national police no longer stand behind him in a closed position.
Under heavy fire
After five years of erratic tenure, the President of the Big Words has become a little love servant of two imperial masters. In the middle of April on Change.org established online petition * " * Save the Nation! Duterte Resign!* “*the president is now unashamedly advised to resign because of “inefficient leadership”. Originally signed by doctors, hospital staff, educators, lawyers, churchmen, and youth organizations, the petition quickly received widespread attention and support, it states: “Over the past five years, we have seen President Duterte’s incompetence, brutality, corruption, and kowtowing to foreign powers destroy democratic governance as we know it. The COVID-19 pandemic has only increased his leadership failure. We do not need a leader who stirs up fear and division. We need a leader who can unite all Filipinos with different beliefs in this one great struggle to save the nation. Duterte is not that person. He has done too much harm to our people. It will never change.“And further:” We are recording record numbers of daily infections and deaths. The public health system is on the verge of collapse. Our economy is also no better. Too many patients die without even having access to medical care. Millions of people have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to lockdowns and other harsh restrictions – the longest and toughest in the world yet blatantly ineffective.”
The petitioners state that the situation is unforgivable, since Duterte was provided with all the necessary resources to fight COVID-19 and he also took out huge loans for it. Unexpected protection of the petitioners ' flank quickly came from a side that had made its own experiences in and with the People’s Republic of China – from the Communist Party of the Philippines . In a statement issued on 7 April, the In a statement posted on its website on April 19, the party loudly propagated the formation of a “national united front to expel Chinese imperialist aggression.““The CPP”, it says in this statement, " calls on all forces, from the mass-based democratic forces to the conservative political oppositions as well as elements within the ruling regime and in the military- and police forces, to make every effort to enforce the sovereign rights of the country.“According to the party’s summary, Duterte had been lulled by China’s” vaccination diplomacy “and false promises of” economic investment,” and had also received bribes from China and cultivated ties with Chinese drug syndicates.
Marco Valbuena, head of the information department of the CPP, described the president in a statement published on 21 April “as a national traitor” who must step down from the political scene or be overthrown as quickly as possible. Duterte had also concealed that he had agreed “personal deals” with the political leadership in Beijing.
Founded on Mao Zedong’s 75th birthday on 26 December 1968 in Central Luzon on a declared Marxist-Leninist and Maoist basis, numerous CPP cadres stayed in the People’s Republic during the martial law imposed by the then Philippine President Ferdinand E. Marcos and enjoyed the full support of the CP of China there. But the times have long since passed and the former model is regarded as “revisionist degenerate and imperialist"from today’s perspective of the CPP. The last paradox remains that the communist-eater Duterte and the political leadership in China have enjoyed a liaison in the sense of quite best friends for the longest time.
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