The Philippine foreign policy is based on three basic pillars comprises of national security, economic relations, and protection of overseas workers. These three pillars help to provide a solid foundation in maintaining amicable relations between China and the Philippines. However, the escalating territorial claims in the South China Sea in 2009 changed the relations between the two states. This condition has contributed toward a major policy change as President Rodrigo Duterte took on the Philippine presidency. President Duterte’s approach to rebalancing the bilateral relationship with China displayed a major change amidst the continuity to Philippine foreign policy that he tried to maintain particularly regarding its alliance with the US considering how the Sino-Philippine relations had always been warm prior to Aquino’s administration.
This is the highlight of Prof. Herman Joseph S. Kraft, Associate Professor from the Department of Political Science, the University of the Philippines Diliman during a general lecture with the theme “The Philippine Foreign Policy under President Rodrigo Duterte: Change and Continuity,” that was held recently at President University, Jababeka, Indonesia.
Philippine foreign policy under Duterte displays more continuity than change. However, the change is so significant that Philippine rapprochement to China garners more media and academic attention, explained Prof. Kraft. For example, the Philippines under Duterte’s presidency would rather halt the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration pertaining to its disapproval on China’s claim on the disputed territory in order to establish economic relations with China.
“The rationale behind Duterte’s bilateral approach to China can be explained through its economic needs. The Philippines needs China. An example will be the “Build, Build, Build” program that has been invented by Duterte as the main motor of the Philippine economy. China promised to provide a loan of USD 7.34 B to support the program. Plus, the flow of funds from China will be more assured, if the Philippines manages to secure its participation in the Belt and Road initiative,” explained Prof. Kraft.
This move can also be seen as the extension of the Philippines’ local policy pertaining to its economic development that currently prioritizes the importance of infrastructure development as one of the nation’s top priorities.
During the discussion, the lecturer of International Relations from President University Gibran Mahesa Drajat added that The Philippines’ concept of rebalancing its relations with the two great powers the US and China are not compatible with the concept of ASEAN Centrality. In this case, the Philippines needs to be decisive whether to abide by ASEAN Centrality or to align its interests with China.
“The change within Philippine foreign policy under Duterte’s presidency displays an attempt of rebalancing Sino-Philippine relations, bringing it back to a certain level of normalcy,” emphasized Prof. Kraft. Gibran added that the reinstatement of ASEAN Centrality might become an alternative to how the Philippines would like to settle this territorial issue, focusing on a multilateral approach rather than a transactional one.