MANILA- The Philippines cannot afford another falling out with China due to the South China Sea row if President Rodrigo Duterte really wants to purse his economic agenda, an analyst said Sunday.
Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, said the Duterte administration is taking a more cautious approach in dealing with China as part of its developmental diplomacy.
“President Duterte is really trying to really promote friendship and cooperation with China in order to pursue its economic programs,” Banlaoi told ANC.
With China’s powerful economy, Banlaoi said the Philippine government “cannot afford” to be in an adversarial position against China.
“I think the Philippine government under President Duterte is pursuing what I call a cautious, pragmatic and reconciliatory approach towards the South China Sea because there is a serious intention on the part of President Duterte to really promote cooperation with China and at the same time revive friendships with our close neighbors,” he said.
Several Southeast Asian leaders had reportedly called for the ASEAN joint statement to mention China’s "land reclamation and militarization that may further complicate the situation" in the South China Sea.
However, the joint statement which was issued early Sunday, was silent on China's defeat before the Hague-based arbitration court, which invalidated the basis of Beijing's sweeping claims over the South China Sea.
It also avoided any mention of Beijing's island-building activities in the disputed waters, or of Chinese militarization of these islands.
As chairman of this year’s ASEAN, Manila has been repeatedly urged to raise the maritime dispute in talks but President Duterte insisted that the arbitral ruling was a "non-issue."
Other than the Philippines, ASEAN members Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam have respective claims in the waters.
Unlike his predecessor Benigno Aquino III, Duterte has sought closer ties with China in a bid to gain improved economic ties.
Duterte flew to China last October, bringing home $24 billion dollars in investment pledges.