Many in Philippines saw President Rodrigo Duterte’s overtures to China as a gamble, some called it foolish, but the reality is that sooner or later all nations of the region will have to acknowledge that there is a global super-power at their back door and that super-power is not the United States.
China will dominate the region as much as the US has dominated North and South America since the 19th century. However, China’s dominance is not one that is imperial, it is one based on the pragmatic nature of Chinese mega-commerce as well as China’s insistence that its sovereignty not be molested by any nations.
The fact that yesterday, China scrambled a fleet and several aircraft to intercept a US vessel which strayed into Chinese territorial waters in the South China Sea is proof positive that China is willing to take on literally any nation that provokes Beijing in the region.
This is yet another vindication of President Duterte’s China policy which he once defined as being “suicidal” should he decide to continue to policy of his predecessor and antagonise rather than cooperate with and respect the super-power.
Recently, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi spoke with Philippines Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano in Beijing. Wang said,
“I want to tell the people of Philippines that whenever difficulties and challenges (arise), China will always stand by your side”.
He went on to praise a “golden period of relations” between the two countries.
Wang then spoke of the two countries having resolved previous disputes over the South China Sea, saying,
“Our two countries have set up a bilateral consultation mechanism on the South China Sea issue and also a mechanism for cooperation between the coast guards.
If anyone wants to reverse the current progress it will harm the interests of the Philippine people and that is not what we would like to see”.
Duterte’s policy of reaching a cooperative deal on the South China Sea dispute has now opened China’s One Belt–One Road trade project to Philippines in a manner that is de-facto preferential vis-a-vis any other East Asian nation. Both Foreign Ministers expressed their enthusiasm for China’s One Belt–One Road and the possibilities for enhanced prosperity that it could offer Philippines.
China also pledged to assist Philippines in its war against terrorism when and it needed.
The truth is that for East Asia, central Asia, and Eurasia, China’s ‘New Silk Road’ will be the dominate commercial superhighway of the region in both a literal and metaphorical sense. The realistic choice for countries therefore is that they can share the driving seat or otherwise be a passenger.
In this sense Duterte’s decision to open up Philippines to cooperation with China was a pragmatic and necessary decision but the timing of it was a visionary decision. A less incisive and decisive leader could have delayed the decision until such a time that he may have felt there was no other option. Instead, Duterte chose to be a leader among all countries of the region and extend cooperation with China, beginning with a pledge to peacefully resolve any tensions in the South China Sea.
China will not forget that it was Philippines who made the first move among all regional powers. Manila will consequently be rewarded for this more than any other country in the South China Sea region.
Duterte has secured his country’s future among the successful powers of the region and wider world. When the related wars on drugs and terrorism are finally won this will become increasingly obvious.