How Duterte’s ‘Unpredictability’ Keeps US and Chinese Diplomats on Edge

By Sputnik News

PH President Rodrigo Duterte and China’s President Xi Jinping Photo ©

LAST week, the Minister of Defense for the Philippines Delfin Lorenzana said that the agreement signed with the US in 2014 (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) is now in full force. Sputnik China spoke with Anton Tsvetov, expert from the Center for Strategic Research, about the Philippines’ current relations with the US and China.

Recently, the Pentagon gave the green light for the creation of military infrastructure on five Filipino bases with an American military presence that will support rotational deployments. According to Lorenzana, President Duterte intends to abide by all the agreements which were made in 2014.

However, just a few days ago, Duterte made a new statement accusing the United States of creating permanent stockpiles of weapons in the Philippines and hence violating the bilateral agreements.

Anton Tsvetov, expert from the Center for Strategic Research spoke with Sputnik China in an interview about the future relations of the Philippines with the US.

“The agreement includes the permanent storage of equipment for humanitarian operations, such as search and rescue at sea. Nevertheless, there would be a requirement for storage of equipment meant for the rotational term. It is possible that in Washington, they believe that the agreement has not been violated,” Tsvetov said.

According to the expert, Duterte is not going to terminate the agreement for now but he might revise it.

He further said that in his speech the president has also bluntly said that during his term it will be necessary to have a “hard talk” with Chinese President, Xi Jinping, on the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague regarding the South China Sea.

He further said that Duterte’s pragmatism is understandable. “China intends to give the Filipino military a technical donation of 14 million dollars, which, according to Lorenzana, will go to the purchase of two or three fast motor boats, two drones, sniper rifles and a robot-sapper.”

In a similar scenario last week, the head of the Senate Committee on Armed Services John McCain put forward a 7.5 billion dollar plan for financing of US armed forces and their allies in Asia.

“Hence, eventually the Philippine leadership must understand that close military cooperation with both the US and China will be extremely difficult to carry out,” Tsvetov said.

The “game of mutual jealousy can be very dangerous,” considering that the Philippines is most in need of external assistance, both economic and military.

The expert further said that Duterte’s decision- making process is viewed by many differently. “Some call it decisiveness, while many others call it unpredictability.”

“In that sense during the administration of Aquino it was much easier. Washington knew exactly that the Philippines heavily relied on the United States and would support US initiatives in the region to an extent,” Tsvetov said.

According to the expert, Beijing’s policy towards the Philippines was clear under the previous Filipino administration, but now under Duterte, it is possible that China doesn’t know what to expect.

“In Beijing, planning politics towards Philippines was way easier earlier because confirmation of a confrontation was easier to understand than non-confirmation of a multi-vector policy,” the expert said.

He added that, “Now Duterte makes sudden moves almost every other week and although for now the situation is working in China’s favor, nothing stops the Philippines from turning towards the other side. If real crisis arises, it is doubtful that China will find the Philippines to be a reliable partner,” Tsvetov concluded.


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