Beyond an Independent Foreign Policy for the Philippines

by  Victor Andres “Dindo” C. ManhitSeptember 21, 2016 / bworldonline.com

For several months now, President Duterte has indicated that he would improve the Philippines’ relations with China and reduce his predecessor’s enthusiasm for the United States. To borrow a phrase from Washington, Duterte is “rebalancing” the country’s foreign policy. More than a simple warming of ties, his overtures have even extended to offering to buy Chinese-made weapons for the military.

The President has indicated his intentions through a series of boldly phrased comments, the height of which was cursing in the midst of talking about US President Barack Obama. His comments have taken observers aback, as Duterte’s brash style — which he once promised to tone down — is not a common sight at diplomatic gatherings. As a result, there is the risk that Duterte’s manner will draw more attention than the greater portion of his message: that our foreign policy is about to turn more “independent.”

A GOOD FOREIGN POLICY IS MORE THAN INDEPENDENT

It goes without saying that every Filipino should support an approach to foreign policy that is both crafted by Filipinos and that elevates the national interest above all else. If the President’s aim is a foreign policy that conforms to the country’s principles and not to external pressure, he would simply be upholding his duties under the Constitution.

In Duterte’s case, however, the term “independent” appears to mean something different. It has become shorthand for pushing the United States away and pulling China closer. Although his spokesmen and secretaries would issue follow-up statements that will hopefully “clarify” his meaning, these do little to mask the president’s sentiments on the Philippines-US relationship. Any reader paying attention to the past few weeks’ news comes away with the sense that the Philippines is not looking to strengthen its ties with its traditional ally.

This new policy may be independent, but it must go further to prove that it will be good. A good foreign policy typically has three components: it defends fundamental interests (e.g. the safety and integrity of our nation, the health of our economy, or the protection of our citizens abroad); it espouses Filipino and universal values (e.g. upholding our commitments or complying with international law); and does all of the above in the least costly manner. More than focusing only on independence, the President should lay out how its new foreign policy will be good for Filipinos.

WILL DUTERTE’S SHIFT IN POLICY BE GOOD FOR THE PHILIPPINES?

The significance of the President’s statements is how they appear to mark a philosophical, not only geopolitical, shift in approach to foreign affairs. We say goodbye to the Aquino administration’s officially “principled” tack, which conveniently built on the country’s ties with the United States, but which at the same time alienated China, and say hello to an ostensibly more pragmatic view of the Philippines’ interests and role in the world.

The significance of the President’s statements is how they appear to mark a philosophical, not only geopolitical, shift in approach to foreign affairs. We say goodbye to the Aquino administration’s officially “principled” tack, which conveniently built on the country’s ties with the United States, but which at the same time alienated China, and say hello to an ostensibly more pragmatic view of the Philippines’ interests and role in the world.

Some hope that Duterte’s early overtures to China would help our country to reaffirm the view that, although we welcome the Arbitral Tribunal’s favorable ruling, the situation in the West Philippine Sea need not encompass the entirety of the Philippines-China relationship. There are benefits to encouraging greater trade, leveraging Chinese funds for infrastructure, and engaging in educational, cultural, and scientific exchanges. Such efforts would benefit Filipino and Chinese citizens alike, not least by helping build trust and understanding between our people. Read more…

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