MANILA — A former United States defense official on Tuesday said China was trying to "lure" the Philippines and its other neighboring countries into a "Chinese kind of hegemonic order" following a meeting between former President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
Former US defense assistant secretary for strategy and force development Elbridge Colby told ANC that whatever Xi told Duterte during their meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse on Monday was "misleading at best."
"I think the proof has been in the pudding over the last decade or so, both in the continued aggressiveness of Chinese military and brazen activities but also in the relatively disappointing results of Chinese economic investments," Colby said.
"If the Philippines is alone with China, which is gonna have a navy that is 1.5 times the size of the US Navy by the end of this decade, no one will be able to help the Philippines if the Chinese continue to try to push Manila around, which is already the behavior we see," he added.
No official details have so far been disclosed about the meeting between Xi and Duterte, who had sought warmer ties with China during his presidency from 2016 to 2022.
But Chinese officials said they hoped Duterte would continue to promote "friendly cooperation" between the Philippines and China amid persisting tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
While the US and Japan have called the Permanent Court of Arbitration's 2016 ruling on the West Philippine Sea as "final and legally binding," China has continuously shunned the award, even alleging US involvement in the decision.
Colby, however, said that China's accusations against the US on The Hague ruling were "immaterial," with China "trying to deflect" on the issue.
He added that continued partnership between the Philippines and its longtime ally the US would be the only deterrent to China's increasing aggressions in the South China Sea.
"The only way that China's gonna be impressed and influenced and ultimately deterred is through hard power and resolve together, and that's why the alliance and the EDCA announcements are so important," Colby said, referring to the enhanced defense deal between the Philippines and the US signed in 2014.
He also said that while the Philippines can develop partnerships with the US, Japan, and other nations, it can still trade with China as it is one of the country's top trading partners.
"You can still trade with China... but here's the thing: China also needs to put that money to work and the news coming out from China about economic difficulties they're having shows that they don't have an infinite ability to just turn off their economic engagements," Colby said.
"China's not in the position where it can simply ignore the rest of the world," he added.