How Will Rodrigo Duterte Stop Xi Jinping?
Rodrigo Duterte could become the next president of the Philippines on May 9. He’s the front-runner, according to polls, with only a few weeks left before the vote. Growing numbers of Filipinos believe Duterte is the right man to protect them in the face of rising crime. They also think he can shield them from an increasingly serious, external threat: the Chinese. But, how will Rodrigo Duterte stop Xi Jinping?
The Philippines and the United States recently joined forces in the escalating conflict over the South China Sea. But the Chinese show no sign of ceasing their claims to islands, coral reefs, and lagoons off the west coast of the Philippines, inside the nation’s 200-mile economic zone.
How Will Rodrigo Duterte Stop Xi Jinping? Turn to the Americans
Last week, in Manila, United States Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced the deployment of U.S. troops and equipment to five bases, located from the Philippines’ northernmost principal island, Luzon, to its southernmost, Mindanao. Carter also announced the placement of U.S. fighter jets at Clark Air Base, just north of Manila on the island of Luzon. Taking off from Clark, U.S. and Filipino pilots could quickly fly the 145 miles west to Scarborough Shoal, which is part of the Spratly Islands. The Chinese claim the entire island chain. Their recent actions indicate they intend to defend it.
Duterte, known for waging a war on crime in Davao and winning it, pledges a peace offer to the Chinese. Last week, he issued a foreign policy statement declaring his three approaches to the South China Sea dispute. First, he would maintain the current stance of the Benigno Aquino administration in pursuing a legal solution through an international court of arbitration. Second, he would propose bi-lateral talks with his Chinese counterparts. Third, he would take what he called more assertive action in defending the sovereignty of the Philippines.
Analysts attribute the rapid military build-up by U.S. forces in the Philippines to escalating tensions in the South China Sea. But they also cite uncertainty in the U.S. government about the outcome of the May 9 election. Will the next president of the Philippines cooperate with U.S. leaders in checking Chinese advances in the South China Sea? For their part, many Filipinos have no difficulty believing Duterte will do what he says. They know what he has already done.