A THINK tank on Monday said the foreign policy of the Duterte administration risks alienating its major economic partners and creating an “unwelcoming” environment to foreign investors.
President Rodrigo Duterte had said that he would pursue an “independent” foreign policy, one that is sovereign from the United States, but observers see the President is pushing the Philippines closer to China.
Duterte had been castigating traditional international partners and organizations of late but speaking more pleasantly and softly to China, which allegedly occupies Philippine territory illegally, unreasonably denying Filipino fishermen access to fishing waters, according to a ruling of a United Nations arbitral tribunal.
Dindo Manhit, president of Stratbase-ADR Institute (ADRi) for Strategic and International Studies, said Duterte’s foreign policy seems to realign the Philippines’ friendship with other countries.
“While the President’s mandate to define the country’s approach to foreign relations is unassailable, the administration should nevertheless reconsider its strategy in terms of potentially alienating established economic and security partners. The Philippines should maintain its good relations with trusted friends and pursue constructive relations with all of its neighbors, in both word and deed,” Manhit added.
The political analyst said a foreign policy should be guided by three principles.
“First, a country’s approach must defend the country’s fundamental interests. These include the security and integrity of our territory, the health of our economy and the protection of Filipino citizens abroad. Second, it must seek to achieve its goals while espousing national and universal values, such as upholding our commitments and complying with or enforcing international law. Third and important for a less developed country, it must strive for all of the above in the most efficient or least costly manner,” according to Manhit.
He said in light of the three principles, independence alone is not sufficient for a sound foreign policy.
Manhit surmised that the government’s 10-point economic agenda may be put at risk, given the current policy.
“An unwelcoming atmosphere in the Philippines could easily dampen the country’s economic relationships. In the United States, as elsewhere, private investors have reportedly grown skittish about the Philippines’ prospects. The US economy is the Philippines’ largest source of private investment and second-largest export market after Japan,” he explained.
“Unfortunately, in President Duterte’s case, the term ‘independent’ appears to be shorthand for pushing the United States away and pulling China closer. Although his spokesmen and secretaries would issue follow-up statements to clarify the President’s meaning, these do little to mask his sentiments on Philippines-US relationship,” Manhit said.
The ADRi president said the country can pursue its independence without squandering its hard-earned, advantageous relationships with other countries.
“The government’s new stance must be calibrated to ensure that it does not compromise the administration’s ten-point plan and the Philippines’ overall economic security,” the think tank said.
It added that the government’s warming up to China signals a quick break from the US, which is unfortunate.
“It is one thing for the administration to downplay the arbitral tribunal’s favorable ruling, out of a fear of possible retribution. It is another thing entirely to halt patrols with the United States and limit them to a minimal 12 nautical mile distance, far less than the full 200 nautical mile spread of the country’s exclusive economic zone,” ADRi said.
“By taking such drastic steps, the administration gives the impression of swinging wildly and insincerely instead of taking smaller, but more meaningful steps toward friendly relations,” it added.
Manhit said being careful with pronouncements and calibrating them with government actions will send a more meaningful signal not only to China, but also to all of the Philippines’ international partners.
“Such care will help the President and his team achieve the Philippines’ foreign policy objectives,” he noted.