MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte’s shift to China at the expense of the United States provides Beijing an “opening” to strengthen its influence in the Pacific, a political analyst said Friday.
The dramatic change in foreign policy will be lucrative for Duterte, with $13.5 billion in trade deals set to be signed between Filipino and Chinese companies, said Jaime FlorCruz, visiting professor at Peking University.
“From here, the Chinese are obviously seeing an opening to pull the Philippines away from the US orbit, so they are throwing all these deals to him,” FlorCruz told ANC’s “Market Edge with Cathy Yang.”
“China plays a big chessboard with all the multi-faceted economic, political and and military interests as it plays shadowboxing with the United States,” he said.
Duterte, who is winding down a four-day state visit to China, told a trade forum in Beijing on Thursday that he was announcing the Philippines “separation” from the US.
The President’s announcement punctuated months of criticism of the US for allegedly failing the Philippines as a key ally. Duterte had also rejected American criticism of his bloody war on drugs.
FlorCruz said Washington’s response might not be known until after the winner of the November elections is known. Polls show Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton leading her Republican rival, Donald Trump.
“The US is distracted by the ongoing presidential elections. What they’re trying to do is not to say anything harsh or not to do anything that will upset the current fragile relationship with the Philippines,” he said.
“Meantime, President Duterte is waiting for some overtures, for some friendly pullback from the US as he pulls off this 13.5-billion gambit,” he said.
Duterte’s foreign policy is a complete turnaround from that of his predecessor, Benigno Aquino, who relied on the US to counter China’s influence in the South China Sea, where they are sparring for reefs and outcrops.
A United Nations-backed court ruled in July in favor of a petition filed by the Aquino government, and said that China had no historic rights to exploit the resource-rich waters.
“It seems that the two have agreed to disagree and set aside the issue,” FlorCruz said, referring to Duterte and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.