Yesterday in Lima at the APEC summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin met President Duterte of Philippines for the first time. The public face of the meeting was deeply cordial from both sides, although what was said in private may have been far more interesting than the rather predictable public exchange.
While Duterte’s meeting with Obama after the recent G20 summit in Beijing was called off after Duterte called the outgoing American president the ‘son of a whore’, the meeting with Putin couldn’t have been more different.
Putin noted that Duterte was elected on the 9th of May (Russia’s Victory Day), which immediacy affirms a kind of poetic bond with the Russian people. Duterte praised the Russian President’s leadership skills before speaking about how Western aggression pushes small states like his away from any possible alliance based on cooperation and mutual respect.
Duterte stated that, “…now the Western nations are making attempts to attack small states and to intimidate them”. He referred to such a phenomenon as a sign of ‘western bigotry’.
The clear implication of stating such remarks in front of President Putin is that Russia, unlike powerful Western nations, respects the sovereignty of small non-Western states like the Philippines.
Duterte had said previously that he would be happy to join in a new ‘world order’ led by Russia and China. Without saying the name, the BRICS is the organisation such a statement made clear reference to. Time will tell if the meeting between Duterte and Putin will lead to closer Philippine cooperation with the BRICS.
The Philippines could indeed benefit greatly from Russian imports, particularly in respect of Russian arms, which are generally more affordable and durable than those coming from the West.
There is a possibility that Duterte simply used his meeting with Putin to raise his own domestic profile by sitting with a leader who commands global respect throughout the world and increasingly so in Southeast Asia.
Ultimately, it will be in the interests of both countries, and especially of the Philippines, to turn these words into firm commitments on trade, cultural exchange and security.