And so there it is. After dancing around the issue for the last two months, we finally see where the Philippines is heading: China and Russia. It’s not really much of a surprise considering the amount of abuse that the president has thrown the way of the US and the rest of the Western world, and the praise heaped upon China and Russia.
It should be obvious to everyone by now that the president really really really hates the US. He insulted the American ambassador to the Philippines, threatened to curse the US president, told US forces to leave Mindanao and, most recently, suspended joint patrols in the South China Sea, and shown no inclination to continue with joint military exercises with US forces because, he says, China doesn’t like it. Of course, there was also the oh so undiplomatic “FU!” to the EU. Meanwhile, he thinks Putin is actually an okay guy, and we haven’t really heard him say anything against China remotely near as harsh as what he has thrown at the West despite the fact that it has practically held the South China Sea hostage even as an international tribunal has already declared — in a case instituted by the Philippines no less — that China does not in fact have any historical claim over the contested area. China and Russia are now conducting joint military exercises in the South China Sea and Filipinos still can’t get in as they are chased out of the area by China’s coast guard. The president does not even appear to be interested in upholding the arbitral ruling as he tries to get China to agree to allow Filipino fishermen access into the disputed areas. Appeasement at any cost seems to be the chosen tact even if in at least one occassion, he noted that illegal drugs in the Philippines comes, and is being run from China, and if there is anything he supposedly hates more than the West, then it is illegal drugs.
As far as we can tell, much of the presidential anger against the West rises from the actions of US forces way back at the time when it was occupying the Philippines in the end of 1800s and early 1900s, especially in Mindanao. He views the US and the Western powers in general as old-time colonists that has no moral authority to question how he is running the country. Parenthetically, if he bothers to try to look hard enough, then he will see that China and Russia are actually no different.
Clearly, the president is free to choose to build bridges to China and Russia. If these countries are willing to give whatever aid to the Philippines in return for its friendship, then that would be most welcome. There’s nothing wrong with making more friends.
In a different time, it would even have made sense. China and Russia were part of BRICS, a group of countries that was supposed to lead the world economically. China indeed grew to become the second largest economy overtaking Japan while Russia made a killing when oil prices went stratospheric. The rest of the group, Brazil, India and South Africa, were all the envy of the world reeling from the Global Financial Crisis.
Then things went south. Oil prices plunged and Russia is losing its reserves trying to shore up its economy. Chinese manufacturing has stalled and there are plenty of questions surrounding its banks and their exposure to bad loans. Brazil managed to hold the Olympics (and the Football World Cup before that) despite the political and economic upheavals it was facing but it is no longer anywhere near where it was some ten years ago. South Africa has been overshadowed by its political problems as the party of the late great Nelson Mandela loses its footing. After showing much promise, India is now drowning in pollution. Admittedly, the rest of the globe isn’t doing any better than BRICS. However, if the Philippines was looking to China and Russia for aid in the extent that the US and EU are now providing it, then I think it will be sorely disappointed. China might still be able to do so. Russia, not so much. Indeed, we haven’t really heard anything much from BRICS nowadays.
Still, one wonders how much these countries can actually give the Philippines when they have been hobbled by so many problems. Moreover, one Chinese analyst notes that the president appears to be just playing with China what with him flip-flopping every now and then. At present, China has pledged to build drug rehab centers and a national railway system. Russia appears to have pledged military hardware. For free. What exactly these are has yet to be revealed.
What is disturbing is that the president, in pivoting away from the US, touts the Philippine Constitution’s declaration that the country must follow an independent foreign policy as his justification. Now, it seems that as far as the president is concerned, an independent foreign policy just means independent from the US and apparently dependent on China and Russia. The president even said that he is about to cross the rubicon with the US. We can all just imagine what that would actually mean.
At this point, it may be wise to listen to former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Albert Del Rosario. Asked about what he thought of where we are now, he expressed the opinion that making new friends need not be at the expense of your old friends. Diplomacy he adds should not be a zero-sum affair: you don’t have to be all pro-China and anti-US, or vise versa. Unfortunately, these may fall on deaf ears as the president’s hatred for the West appears to have closed any possible balanced approach to the country’s foreign policy.
The painful thing about this is that if we call the president’s attention to this, then we just might get called a son of a whore for our trouble.