Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has had a wild presidency so far.
First he likened himself to Adolph Hitler, and gleefully initiated a governmental program to kill thousands of drug users and dealers. When the United Nations demanded an end to the killing, Duterte threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the global organization.
This week, Duterte pledged a national “separation” from America, looking to ideologically join with Russia and China instead.
“America has lost now,” Duterte told Chinese business leaders during a state visit to China. “I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow.”
As part of this realignment, Duterte has agreed to talks with China over the contentious issue of control over the South China Sea. Duterte had previously promised to drive a jet ski into the South China Sea and plant the Philippine flag on various disputed islands, but he has since let up on such pompous promises to flaunt the Philippines’ resistance to Chinese influence.
It is unclear, however, how the Philippine people will react to Duterte’s historic shift away from the US, particularly because the Philippines in recent years has chafed under China’s creeping dominance in Asia. Now Duterte apparently wants to join along with China’s ambitions toward becoming an international power.
The Philippine people still support the US more than they support China, though, by a wide margin. In recent polling, three-fourths of Filipinos said they had “much trust” in the US versus only one-fourth who said they had much trust in China.
Meanwhile, Duterte’s drug policies have been highly controversial, and his extrajudicial killings do not suggest he is loyal to the rule of law. His dictatorial leanings may be evident, and it remains to be seen how the Philippine democracy will react to Duterte’s authoritative presidency. Will the Philippine people go along with their president who has earned the nickname of the “Philippines’ Donald Trump”? And if Filipinos dump Duterte in the next election, will the blossoming dictatorship give up control peacefully?
The sudden Philippine reversal of decades of alignment with the US has been baffling for the Obama Administration, which is trying to interpret how Duterte’s controversial statements will affect actual policy decisions and actions. The US still has five military bases on Philippine land as well as strong economic ties that have yet to be severed by the Philippine government, despite Duterte’s pro-China rhetoric.
Adding a second middle finger to US-Philippines relations, Duterte is also apparently looking for cozier relations with Russia.
“[…] Maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia,” he told the previously mentioned meeting with Chinese business leaders.
This is not a promising development for American national interests, though the world will watch in coming months to see whether or not the Philippine people will accept Duterte’s foreign policy over their loyalty to the US.
Picture courtesy of the Presidential Communications Operations Office.