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Just as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit closes in Da Nang, Vietnam, the ASEAN Business and Investment Summit kicks off in the Philippine capital, Manila.
Going into the ASEAN forum, Philippine businessmen and women can feel confident that President Rodrigo Duterte’s new geo-political and geo-economic game plan for his country has been a success and importantly, a success which lays a wide foundation for future expansion.
Philippines under Duterte, has led the way for all of South East Asia in transforming the long running South China Sea dispute from a tense situation wherein South Asian nations are often political footballs in a dispute which ultimately pits the Chinese superpower against the US superpower, into a pragmatic understanding of prevailing realities.
Under Duterte, Philippines has made a solid commitment to peace and cooperation over issues regarding South China Sea maritime and territorial rights. This positive attitude has been applauded by China and now it is being rewarded in the form of new investment in Philippines by China, a country better placed than almost any other to inject money into Philippines which is one of the top ten growing economies in the world.
Chinese media has praised the results of the discussions between Presidents Duterte and Xi at the APEC summit which is a clear indication of China’s high regard for Rodrigo Duterte.
In addition to solidifying new cooperative initiatives with China, Rodrigo Duterte also had a productive meeting with Vladimir Putin, the progress of which will be carried forward by the substantial Russian delegation, including Russia’s Premier, which has arrived in Manila for the ASEAN summit.
In addition to further cooperation on security issues which will see Philippines receiving world-class Russian weapons for both the police and military use, Philippines and Russia look to cement cooperative infrastructure projects for Philippines as well as energy initiatives.
Josephine Romero, an adviser at the ASEAN Business Advisory Council and Program Chair of ASEAN Business and Investment Summit 2017 has said the following about cooperative measures between Russia and Philippines,
“They (Russia) also mentioned their advanced [space] technology. Different ASEAN member nations are also exploring space technology, something the Russians are very proud to say they’re very advanced. Finally, they mentioned they would like to strengthen relations with ASEAN member nations. We expect the Prime Minister to lay down some of their strategic directions”.
These sentiments were echoed by Duterte’s official spokesman Harry Roque who stated,
“There are Russian companies wanting to invest in transportation [projects], including a subway, and he (Putin) even made particular mention of the interest in building a light metro rail for Baguio and La Trinidad”.
Further discussions between Russia and Philippines including talks concerning Russia building a nuclear power plant in Philippines and even the possibility of joint efforts in aerospace technology and space exploration have been conducted and will continue during the ASEAN summit.
The two overriding themes of Duterte’s geo-economic reach can be summed up as follows:
1. Philippines is open for business with new regional and international partners
2. Philippines is becoming a safe, comfortable and forward looking place to do business
Those who cannot see the causal relationship between Duterte’s tough law and order position on drugs and related crime and terrorism issues, and new possibilities of investment in Philippines, are simply being naive. A safe and stable country is the kind of place where international investors feel confident about doing business. Duterte’s stance on the drug, crime and terrorism problem is effective an insurance policy for foreign investors which says ‘make investments in Philippines because the best is yet to come’.
Furthermore, as Philippines looks to host a new human rights conference in the near future, the wider western world ought to also drop the colonial approach to human rights issues. While some in Washington and the EU think that human rights means showing leniency in policing drug crime, in reality the drug problem in Philippines has been a detriment to the human rights of the wider population who want to live in a peaceful place where children can grow up safely and securely. Furthermore, while many emphasise Duterte’s war on drugs when it goes after dangerous drug users and other criminals who continue to menace innocent people, they often forget that Duterte has also offered an amnesty where drug users can turn themselves in and receive medial attention.
This is the real model of human rights for a forward looking 21st century, something which should be positively emphasised by the Philippine leadership at future international summits.
Duterte’s pivot towards new partners like Russia and China is often contrasted with his negative view on the United States. While Duterte has offered criticism of the United States, criticism which speaks to Duterte’s push to forever end the colonial mentality of Washington, he has not ever said he refuses to do business with the United States. Duterte instead has said that when doing business with the United States, such deals must be made on an equal footing based on respect, pragmatism and realism, rather than on colonial arrogance or with political ultimatums. This is both a realistic and dignified way forward with an often difficult US government.
Duterte has already stated that his “most meaningful” meetings at APEC were with Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin of China and Russia respectively. This is a clear message to the United States that if Washington wants to maintain good ties with Philippines, it cannot take Philippines for granted ever again. Duterte’s statement is also an example to fellow South East Asian nations, that the road to the future involves cooperation with both Russia and China. This is the future and Duterte has seen it first.
Rodrigo Duterte is about to conduct his first full-scale meeting with Donald Trump and the results will likely show that Duterte is leading a country that is able to conduct deals with both old partners and new. While Duterte has many opponents in the US Congress, Donald Trump has often praised Duterte’s stance on safety issues while Duterte has spoken highly of the US President, unlike his predecessor Barack Obama.
In the words of Xi Jinping, this is the modern “win-win” attitude that is needed for all countries who wish to expand their economic output, increase living standards and make life better for their citizens.
Among all the APEC and ASEAN members, Philippines has mastered the “win-win” mentality more effectively than any other. While the Liberal opposition party continue to undermine Duterte’s achievements, the wider world is acknowledging their success. Duterte is a leader who gets things done and all Filipinos will ultimately benefit from this.