Despite China’s optimism of a “fresh start” with the government of presumptive President Rodrigo Duterte, the Philippines should continue challenging Beijing’s expansionism in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) while at the same time commit to a “development diplomacy” with the Asian power.
The ADR Institute for international Studies (ADRi) and Washington-based partner Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said these issues are among several major policy decisions that the next President must address.
“While Asia recognizes that China has long been an important force for economic prosperity and security in the region, there is resistance when Beijing becomes overzealous in asserting this dominance,” said ADRi President Dindo Manhit.
Manhit added that it is possible to challenge China’s expansionism while government continues to conduct the routine mandates of the foreign service, like helping Filipinos abroad as well as pursuing economic security by promoting trade and investment.
ADRi Trustee and CSIS Southeast Asian Studies Chairman Ernie Bower said China plays a big role in the region’s growth but other countries remain on edge.
“What China’s Asian neighbors want is a China that feels secure, is prosperous economically, and actively participates in regional rule-making. What they fear is that China feels it needs to change the rules around security and economic norms that have produced nearly seven decades of economic growth and progress as well as relative peace in the Asia Pacific. This has put China’s neighbors on edge, making them anxious about advancing their economic engagement through increased trade and investment with China. They fear that the deeper those ties extend; the more leverage Beijing may use to force sovereign concessions,” Bower said.
“China will be an influential and positive force for economic prosperity, regional security, and peace if it takes time to listen to its neighbors and partners. That is an outcome the rest of the world has a great interest in promoting,” he added.
Sustaining the country’s economic partnership with Beijing need not be mutually exclusive with efforts to develop a credible defense posture and should be seen as a complement to the strategic deterrence provided by US forward naval deployment and bilateral alliances in East Asia, Manhit said.
He recommended recalibrating the country’s Foreign Service to include political and economic reporting, trade promotion, and negotiation, and pushing for the passage of the National Security Act. This advocacy is part of the U.S. Philippines Strategic Initiative (USPSI) jointly launched by ADRi and CSIS in May of 2015. The program seeks to strengthen US-Philippine relations communities by seeking alignments in strategic thinking and related policies by educating constituencies in the executive, legislative, policy, business, academic, civil society, and media.