PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte’s desire for closer ties with China and Russia is aimed at balancing Philippine foreign policy that has long been aligned with the United States and Japan.
This was how professor Bobby Tuazon, director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance think tank, viewed the recent pronouncements of the President of a “neutral foreign policy.”
In an interview, Tuazon pointed out that Duterte’s statements were consistent with the 1987 Constitution, which itself provides for an independent foreign policy and renounces war as an instrument of foreign policy.
“Thus, there should be no question if President Duterte advocates for an independent foreign policy because that is precisely what the country’s heads of state are bound to uphold,” he told The Manila Times.
The President said last week he would make frequent trips to China to discuss the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute and other issues. Duterte is open to a joint venture with Beijing to develop mineral resources in the disputed waters.
Duterte also said China and Russia could be alternative investment and business partners, after a ratings agency warned of risks to the Philippines’ credit rating brought about by supposed uncertainties amid the government’s bloody anti-drug war.
The Philippine armed forces, moreover, has been asked to look at the possibility of acquiring Chinese and Russian military equipment through soft loans.
Tuazon argued that the Philippines’ longstanding dependence on the US and Japan had been to the “detriment of the country’s economic and political interests.”
But Tuazon said a truly independent foreign policy would require a sovereign state not be part of any defense alliance with another country, especially one that is aimed against another sovereign state.
Moreover, a sovereign state should not allow the entry of foreign forces and equipment, he said.
“So if the President is really true to his word he should be expected to comply with these other sovereign and constitutional principles,” Tuazon pointed out.
Manila is a treaty ally of Washington, and is designated as a major non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally.
The Philippines and the US have a standing Mutual Defense Treaty, as well as a Visiting Forces Agreement and an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement allowing the rotational presence of US troops.
Analyst Ramon Casiple earlier told The Manila Times Duterte’s statements that seemed to favor China could be part of an effort to correct the notion that the country was “too aligned” with the United States.
“Neutral is the new policy but that does not mean that we are now aligning with China. The President could just be correcting the situation because in the past our government almost didn’t want to talk to China,” Casiple said, referring to the foreign policy of the previous administration.
Casiple said the perception of China and other countries in the region was that the Philippines was too aligned with the US and other Western powers including the European Union.
He said: “If we allow the notion that we are close with the US, how can China believe us?”