New King, New Character: Duterte's China Strategy and its Impact on Philippine Interests in the South China Sea

Author:Justin Shields
Pages:235-265
SUMMARY

The election of populist President Rodrigo Duterte brought about a significant change in the South China Sea policy of the Philippines. Whereas the previous administration preferred to assert its sovereign rights to portions of the South China Sea through an arbitration action against China, the new president has sought reconciliation with China to address conflicting sovereignty claims. This article argues that although Duterte’s... (see full summary)

 
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e Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law
ISSN: 2338-7602; E-ISSN: 2338-770X
http://www.ijil.org
© 2018 e Institute for Migrant Rights Press
nEw King, nEw CharaCtEr
duTerTes china sTraTegy and iTs impacT on philippine inTeresTs
in The souTh china sea
Justin Shields
University of San Diego School of Law
E-mail: jshields@sandiego.edu
e election of populist President Rodrigo Duterte brought about a signicant
change in the South China Sea policy of the Philippines. Whereas the previous
administration preferred to assert its sovereign rights to portions of the South
China Sea through an arbitration action against China, the new president has
sought reconciliation with China to address conicting sovereignty claims. is
article argues that although Duterte’s new strategy has secured some short-term
gains, it been largely ineective in securing the long-term national interests of
the Philippines in the South China Sea. Not only have the Chinese infrastructure
loans that Duterte was promised in exchange for his policy shi failed to materi-
alize, his deference to China’s interests threatens to jeopardize the shing rights,
natural resource rights, and national security interests of the Philippines. Philip-
pine shermen, a crucial sector of the economy, now have access to Scarborough
Shoal, but without any formal agreement, Chinese naval vessels retain control
over the area and can restrict access at their discretion. In addition, Philippine
rights to exploitation of certain South China Sea oil and natural gas resources,
which are critical to fueling the future Philippine economy, have been sacriced
in order to placate China’s preference for joint development. Finally, Duterte’s
failure to push back against Chinese militarization of the South China Sea in
the interest of reconciliation, has worsened the national security situation of the
Philippines and weakened its ability to defend its interests in the area. President
Duterte’s strategic gamble that deference to China will allow the Philippines ac-
cess to the regions resources while side-stepping the issue of sovereignty carries
with it the risk of implicitly recognizing China’s claims and forfeiting legitimate
Philippine claims to the region. If China does not pay a price for its assertive
behavior in the South China Sea, it will continue to dictate the terms of engage-
ment in the region to the detriment of smaller nations like the Philippines.
Keywords: Law of the Sea, Dispute Resolution, Sovereignty, Asia-Pacic Politics.
V Indonesian Journal of International & Comparative Law 235-65 (April 2018)
236
Shields
INTRODUCTION
On May 10, 2016, populist candidate Rodrigo Duterte, largely seen as
an outsider to national politics in the Philippines, was elected its new-
est president by a wide margin.1 His campaign was lled with more
outrageous statements than policy details, but he did make clear that,
if elected, he would change the South China Sea policy of the Phil-
ippines.2 Duterte famously stated that he would “shut up” about the
South China Sea if China would help build railways in the Philippines.3
Aer his inauguration, instead of confronting China like his predeces-
sor President Benigno Aquino III, Duterte sought reconciliation with
China as a better way to address South China Sea tensions. e famous
Filipino proverb “Bagong hari, bagong ugali,” which is, “new king, new
character,” when translated, encapsulates the fundamental shi in poli-
cy that occurred with Duterte’s election to the presidency.
e South China Sea is an area of tremendous strategic importance
in East Asia and for other parts of the world. is vast body of water
encompasses 3.5 million square kilometers and facilitates approximately
$5.3 trillion in international trade annually. In addition to being a
crossroads for international trade, the water way is one of the most
important sheries in the world, rich in biodiversity and providing
food and jobs to millions. Beneath the waters of the sea lies potentially
1. Duterte was elected largely on his promises to clean up crime and corruption
in the Philippines, aer having accomplished these goals as mayor of the noto-
riously lawless Davao City. See James Gabrillo, Power of the people: how Rodrigo
Duterte became the next president of the Philippines, T N, May 17,
2016, https://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/power-of-the-people-how-ro-
drigo-duterte-became-the-next-president-of-the-philippines-1.199126 (last
visited Apr. 2, 2018). See also Richard Javad Heydarian, Philippines post-election
analysis; How Duterte shot to the top, A T, May 13, 2016, http://www.
atimes.com/article/philippines-post-election-analysis-how-duterte-shot-to-
the-top/ (last visited Apr. 2, 2018).
2. Renato Cruz de Castro, Geopolitical Constraints on Duterte’s South China Sea
Policy, A M T I, Jun. 30, 2016, https://amti.
csis.org/geopolitical-constraints-dutertes-south-china-sea-policy/ (last visited
Apr. 2, 2018).
3. ABS-CBN N, Duterte Willing to Back Down on Sea Dispute with China,
Oct. 7, 2016, http://news.abs-cbn.com/halalan2016/nation/04/11/16/duterte-
willing-to-back-down-on-sea-dispute-with-china (last visited Apr. 28, 2017).

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