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English>>Foreign Affairs

Philippine President Duterte aims "soft-landing" in talks with China

(Xinhua)    19:51, July 06, 2016

MANILA, July 6 -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is taking a "soft-landing" approach in exploring ways to renew friendly ties with China, which have been strained in the past years over the disputes in the South China Sea, analysts said on Wednesday.

This is a departure from his predecessor Benigno Aquino III, under whom the Philippines unilaterally initiated an arbitration case against China in 2013 over the dispute at the Permannent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

At his first cabinet meeting after he was sworn in on June 30, Duterte, who had said he was open to talking with China about the territorial dispute, stated, "If we can have peace by just talking I'll be really happy."

Richard Heydarian, an associate professor at De la Salle University, said Duterte "is taking a significant different approach, constantly emphasizing necessity for direct engagement and revival of bilateral ties."

"He is signaling that neither the maritime disputes nor the arbitration case should negatively define the texture of overall bilateral relations," Heydarian said.

He said that Duterte was aiming at "a soft-landing" especially after the arbitration verdict is handed down on July 12, "which may mean not aggressively criticizing China."

In exchange, Heyadarian said Duterte will most likely seek for concessions in the South China Sea.

"A lot of horse trading is on the horizon," he said.


Even before he assumed the presidency, Duterte has made it clear that "I am not ready to go to war," referring to the worst scenario of fighting between China and the Philippines over the disputes in the South China Sea.

Benito Lim, a political science professor, said Duterte wanted to engage China, making his position clear to China that he wanted direct talks and that he did not want to engage China in war, not even "war of words."

"It means that he wants to explore other avenues aside from letting the situation fester in the standoff," Lim said in an interview, adding that Duterte "is trying to look for ways and means by which this long-time standoff can be removed and then agree on things that are mutually beneficial."

Lim said this is a logical step on the part of the Duterte administration, adding that both countries can move on by forging "cooperative and beneficial agreements."

"He is sending a message to China that both countries can agree on mutually beneficial agreements instead of a standoff," Lim said.

"Exploring other avenues by which there can be agreements that are equally beneficial to both is better than saying bad things about each other," he said.

Moreover, he said that Duterte was "addressing" Philippine national interests by making this reconciliatory move with Beijing.

Duterte has said that the Philippines will charter a course of its own, shifting away from Aquino government's overarching dependence on U.S. military support.

"We will chartering a course of our own," Duterte has said.

"It will not be dependent on America, and it will be a line not intended to please anybody but the Filipino interests," said Lim.

Asked what the implication of Duterte's "softening move" will be on the country's relations with the United States, Lim said, "Philippine interests will not be formulated whether the international community would look at it with approval or not. It would be in the interests of the Philippines."

Lim said Duterte's statement that he would wait for the ruling and study its implications meant that even if it were in our favor "he will still examine the consequences of what that decision means."


Rommel Banlaoi, director of the Center for Intelligence and National Security Studies, said Duterte wanted to open direct talks with China on many facets of diplomatic relations like economic and trade, and not just about political issues like the South China Sea.

Banlaoi said Duterte was not just exploring ways "to revive the stagnant relations between Beijing and Manila but he also wants a better economic ties with China."

"Duterte does not want the bilateral relationship with China to revolve around the dispute on the South China Sea, meaning that his administration is willing to talk about other, more equally important aspect of the relations," Banlaoi said.

In an editorial on Monday, the Philippine Daily Inquirer said that despite its territorial dispute with China, it is possible for the Philippines to have strong trade and investment relations with China, adding one major avenue for this is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

"The AIIB has been described as modern and multilateral, or China's 21st-century answer to lenders like the World Bank and the ADB (Asian Development Bank). And the Philippines will be better off borrowing through a more transparent window now," the editorial said.

Banlaoi said Duterte was fostering an independent foreign policy, "a policy that is not pro this and against that" despite what he described as "tremendous pressure" from strategic partners like the United States and its allies in the region.

"It's a difficult and delicate balancing act," Balaoi said, adding that Duterte was determined to have good relations with everybody.

On the forthcoming arbitral ruling, Banlaoi said the administration has already said that it will carefully study the ruling before taking the next step.

"My reading is that the administration will make sure that its next step will support its position to bring back good ties with China," he said.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Editor:Kong Defang,Bianji)

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