Emerging Consistencies in Philippine Foreign Policy Amidst Continuing U.S.-China Frictions

by Lucio Pitlo III / Apr 27 , 2017 / Originally Posted at ChinaUSFocus

Although critics often point to the apparent discrepancies and unpredictability in Philippine foreign policy as expressed by its chief architect, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte, several emerging consistencies can be gathered. In the same vein as other countries that opted not to spell out the specifics of their foreign policy strategy, especially on critical and sensitive issues, in order to have ample room for maneuver and negotiation, these incipient consistencies have yet to be formally articulated in a coherent form, more so applied in reference to a certain foreign policy priority. Although not definitive, an appreciation of some of these nascent consistencies can give one a better outlook of the continuously evolving Philippine diplomacy. Furthermore, beyond his infamous rhetoric which surely played a lot in getting him Times’ 2017 Most Influential Person Award, Duterte’s actions, by and large, resonate as regional responses to the brewing US-China tussle. Continue reading “Emerging Consistencies in Philippine Foreign Policy Amidst Continuing U.S.-China Frictions”


Mutual Gains, Not Shared Values: The New Normal in International Relations?

by Lucio Pitlo III, March 21, 2017/ Originally Posted at AllChinaReview

Much talk about the evolving global political and economic landscape largely ignores the major underlying factor driving this transformational shift, namely the growing emphasis on mutual gains rather than shared values as a fundamental basis for state relations. Shared values is losing its appeal and several reasons account for it. Continue reading “Mutual Gains, Not Shared Values: The New Normal in International Relations?”

Philippines’ warming ties with China and Russia: Opportunity, not concern

by Lucio Pitlo, III, 30 January 2017/ Originally Posted at APPFI

Shared values and resolve to defend territorial integrity and maritime rights had long undergirded Philippine foreign policy which may help explain longstanding ties with traditional allies US and Japan. Hence, the country’s warming relations with China and Russia was considered astonishing, if not a game changer. The country does not share affinity in political ideals with these two and, in the case of China, it even has unresolved disputes over the West Philippine Sea (WPS). One may think that the country is pivoting away from its traditional allies into the fold of incompatible partners for uncertain ends or that one of Asia’s pioneer liberal democracies is anxiously drifting away from its identity. However, despite the rhetoric, a careful examination will reveal that the new Philippine government’s move is driven more by conflict avoidance and economic considerations rather than attempts to redefine the country’s politics and international alignment though President Duterte supports federalism and a more independent foreign policy. Potential change in US government disposition towards Russia under the Trump Presidency may have also played a part. Continue reading “Philippines’ warming ties with China and Russia: Opportunity, not concern”

Crossing the Rubicon by Feeling the Stones: Calculated Balancing Between Major Powers

by Lucio Pitlo III / Nov 16, 2016 / Originally posted at ChinaUSFocus

Despite being just past 100 days in office, President Rodrigo Duterte had already put his country, the Philippines, under global spotlight. Reactions to his leadership style ranged from praise and fascination to criticism and suspicion. Elected by more than 16 million people – more than 6 million votes ahead of his next contender – he has definitely garnered enormous publicity, not only at home, but also abroad, thanks to his grassroots appeal, and decisiveness, unorthodox leadership approach. Critics tend to harp on his rough demeanor – his penchant for expletives and seeming non-observance of protocol and formalities – and lack of coherent vision. He has also been criticized for creating unnecessary uncertainty in Philippine foreign relations that exacerbates regional anxiety and adversely affects politico-security dynamics in the Asia-Pacific. But beyond his strong populist rhetoric are clear elements of a national foreign policy grounded on Philippine domestic imperatives and evolving regional and global architecture. Continue reading “Crossing the Rubicon by Feeling the Stones: Calculated Balancing Between Major Powers”

Of Claims and Freedoms: Diverging Perspectives on the South China Sea


Power differentials between states affect how they view and respond to the South China Sea disputes. Small powers largely see them as a clash of unilateral territorial and maritime claims over all or part of the semi-enclosed sea, whereas big powers frame them in a more strategic manner – a contest for control over a critical international waterway. Small powers focus on immediate and direct concerns like resource access, whereas big powers stress universal freedoms of navigation and overflight. Lumping claims and freedomstogether muddles and complicates the resolution of South China Sea disputes. Disaggregating them, however, may allow for opportunities to tackle part of the dispute separately. Continue reading “Of Claims and Freedoms: Diverging Perspectives on the South China Sea”

Breaking the Ice to Warm Relations: Ramos-Fu Track II Meeting and Beyond

by Lucio Blanco Pitlo III / October 17, 2016 / Originally Posted at China US Focus 

Track II diplomacy has been credited with creating openings for improving relations when official state-to-state interactions are frozen or constrained. As unofficial and private representatives, Track II participants are freer to discuss and explore various issues, scenarios, and options that are important in assessing the interests, priorities, and preferred solutions of both sides. These discussions may then be passed on to official channels for appropriate scrutiny and consideration. States seeking to relieve tensions or establish resolutions to disputes may resort to this approach and its outcome may shape the next steps that both sides can undertake. Track II diplomacy’s results remain mixed, but it takes only one successful attempt to provide concrete and specific agenda items for formal talks. It is within this lens that the Ramos-Fu August 2016 meeting in Hong Kong could be appreciated. Continue reading “Breaking the Ice to Warm Relations: Ramos-Fu Track II Meeting and Beyond”

Promoting China Studies thru academic exchanges

By Lucio Blanco Pitlo III / October 18, 2016 / This article appeared in the Manila Bulletin print edition

As it continues to build its comprehensive national power and assume greater international responsibilities, interest on the study of China is expected to grow further in the future. In an effort to engage scholars and experts specializing in this increasingly important interdisciplinary field, platforms for interaction need to be fostered. To this end, Chinese academic institutions and think-tanks had been actively organizing/hosting conferences, fora, seminars and workshops covering various dimensions of China, sometimes in cooperation with foreign counterparts. Such initiatives are helpful in promoting a better understanding and appreciation of the evolving dynamics inside and outside China and how it affects the rest of the world. These present opportunities to connect with and learn from the international academic community – understand criticisms, concerns and apprehensions about China and obtain relevant objective inputs that can be considered in policymaking.   Continue reading “Promoting China Studies thru academic exchanges”

China-Southeast Asia Connectivity: Opportunities and Challenges for the Maritime Silk Road

by Lucio Blanco Pitlo III / August 15, 2016/ ChinaUSFocus

Connectivity is a shared interest for China and Southeast Asia, and the Maritime Silk Road (MSR) represents part of the continuing efforts to highlight this. Land and sea connections are important for trade and security. The long list of intra-ASEAN and ASEAN-China discussions, agreements, and undertakings related to connectivity demonstrate its importance. Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam share a common land border with China. Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines are littoral states of the South China Sea and the adjoining Gulf of Thailand. Burgeoning ASEAN-China trade is projected to increase from $366.5 billion in 2014 to a target of $1 trillion in 2020, and connectivity will be critical in facilitating this. In addition, geographic contiguity increases vulnerability to trafficking and smuggling (of narcotics, arms, human and contraband) and problems in managing regional commons (e.g. overfishing, maritime piracy, adverse effects of climate change to food and livelihood security). These geographic risks highlight the salience of connectivity for both sides in order to promote two-way trade, commerce, tourism, people-to-people exchanges and to cooperatively address issues of mutual concern. Continue reading “China-Southeast Asia Connectivity: Opportunities and Challenges for the Maritime Silk Road”