Philippine Coast Guard approached Chinese fishing vessel on April 14.  Photo: PCG.

China pushed the Philippines back into the American orbit


Foreign Minister of the Philippines on May 3 suddenly posted online a series of messages with drastic words, asking China to “get out” of the South China Sea.

“China, my friend, how to say polite? Must be … get out of here!”, Philippine Foreign Minister Teodoro Locsin Jr. May 3 posted on Twitter.

“What are you doing with our friendship. It’s you. Not us. We are trying,” he reacted fiercely to recent aggressive moves by Chinese ships. is present in the South China Sea.

On the same day, the Philippine Foreign Ministry accused the Chinese customs of “stalking, blocking the way, traveling dangerously and broadcasting a radio that defies the Philippine coast guard” over the regional waters. A day earlier, Manila confirmed to continue holding exercises in the South China Sea in response to the warning of “stop escalation” from Beijing.

Philippine Coast Guard approached Chinese fishing vessel on April 14. Image: PCG.

According to Derek Grossman, a senior defense analyst at RAND, the foreign minister, Locsin’s anger “is the latest indicator of Beijing’s increasing aggression to force Manila to act”. Since taking office in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly expressed his desire to pivot Philippine relations from the US to China, welcomed investment from the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and threatened to stop. joint exercises with the US, but the challenge over the past time in the South China Sea has surpassed the endurance.

“Duterte now realizes that China is not a friend and that the Philippines ultimately still needs a permanent security ally, the US. Duterte’s perception will lead to important geostrategic implications from now to the end of his term.” June 2022, “said Grossman.

It was also Secretary of State Locsin who sent the first message to signal Manila to change its attitude towards the United States. Nearly four months after President Duterte launched the cancellation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US military, Locsin in June 2020 stressed that the Philippines needs to maintain the VFA because of “the pandemic situation and tension. superpowers increase “. A month after the above statement, for the first time under President Duterte, the Philippine Foreign Ministry publicly recognized the 2016 ruling of the international arbitral tribunal in the South China Sea case.

In his speech on September 23, 2020 before the General Assembly of the United Nations, President Duterte also expressed a change of stance when directly referring to the South China Sea dispute. He emphasized that the 2016 ruling is “irreconcilable” and resolutely rejects any attempt to lower the meaning of the decision. According to Grossman, this is the “most direct challenge” to Beijing from the Philippine leader, demonstrating that the “anti-China stance” is getting more and more fierce.

After the above signals, Manila gradually turned back to Washington orbit.

On November 10, 2020, Foreign Minister Locsin invoked the context of great power competition in the South China Sea to postpone the cancellation of the VFA. He emphasized the “clarity and strength” of traditional alliance relations, implying that Manila is trusting Washington more than Beijing. Locsin is also optimistic about the prospect of “the parties find a better, mutually beneficial, effective and long-term agreement”. Nearly three months later, while visiting Clark Air Base, President Duterte continued to publicly support the US military presence “because of the urgency of the times”.

Boat and patrol boat of the Philippine Coast Guard rehearsal in the South China Sea on April 25.  Photo: AFP.

Boat and patrol boat of the Philippine Coast Guard rehearsal in the South China Sea on April 25. Image: AFP.

“Beijing can only blame itself if it loses the chance to pull the Philippines out of the American orbit. The aggressive behavior in the South China Sea makes it difficult for Duterte to advance the pro-China and anti-American lines,” said Grossman. product.

From the beginning of 2019 to the beginning of 2020, Chinese ships continuously surrounded Thi Tu Island, occupied by Filipino forces, belonging to the Spratly Islands of Vietnam. Hundreds of Chinese ships are alternately present throughout the year, with both the coast and the militia. Then, in February 2020, a few days after Mr. Duterte started the VFA cancellation process, the Chinese warship again pointed artillery at the Philippine naval ship.

From early 2021 to April, tensions continued to escalate because hundreds of Chinese militia ships arrived at Ba Dau beach near Sinh Ton Dong Island, in the Spratly Islands of Vietnam. The Philippines suspects China is using this fleet to capture more in the South China Sea. The Chinese naval ship also chased a Filipino ship carrying staff from the radio to record the situation.

After many countries voiced their concerns about the new tensions in the region and opposed the threatening move by the Chinese fleet, most of the fleet left the Ba Dau beach, spilling out the bodies. others in the Spratlys, but still maintain a few ships anchored here. Vietnam has affirmed that the activities of Chinese ships at Ba Dau beach infringe on Vietnam’s sovereignty, violate international law and request China to stop violating and respect Vietnam’s sovereignty.

Since President Duterte took office to April 26, the Philippine government has sent 78 notes protesting China’s actions in the South China Sea. “We speak more and more aggressively because of the increasingly cheeky nature of their actions, as well as the number, frequency and range of breaches,” said Marie Yvette Banzon-Abalos, Head of Strategic Communications. Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines, said.

South China Sea region.  Graphics: CSIS.

South China Sea region. Graphics: CSIS.

Duterte still holds on to hopes of maintaining friendly relations with Beijing. In a statement last week, he called China the “benefactor” of the Philippines and “disagreement does not mean we must be treated rude and disrespectful”. However, Beijing’s increasingly aggressive behavior is increasing aversion to China in Philippine public opinion. Philippine military leaders still support traditional ally relations with the United States and view China as the greatest outside threat.

President Duterte does not have much room in the strategy. According to Grossman, although the Philippine leadership still calls China a “good friend”, the current situation forces him to toughen up and avoid realizing some of the projects that shake hands with Beijing. The idea of ​​cooperation between the Philippines and China in oil and gas exploration in disputed waters is in danger of collapsing.

“He may not stop criticizing the US, because he is still an anti-American at heart. China leaves Duterte with little choice but to get closer to Washington. The US and the Philippines have.” the chance to reach a new agreement on the VFA soon.Duterte is no longer a major headache in Washington, but a headache for Beijing, which is a positive for the US strategy in the Indo-Pacific “, experts at RAND assess.

Trung Nhan (According to the CNN/ Foreign Policy)

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