MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s pivot to China “may not have entirely paid off,” according to an analyst.
Georgi Engelbrecht, an analyst from the International Crisis Group, said the alliance between Duterte and China did not address the growing tensions in West Philippine Sea.
During a Southeast Asia Speaks interview with Rappler on Thursday, January 13, Englbrecht was asked to expound on his report that Duterte’s pivot to China “may not have entirely paid off.”
“So the first one is how it actually looks with the situation in the South China Sea and the maritime tensions. Have they gone down? Was there progress? And I think that’s where it starts to get complicated because initially, we have a relatively quiet sea but it didn’t stay for that long,” Englbrecht said.
“And ultimately, it further developed into the recent events: Whitsun and Second Thomas Shoal,” the expert added.
Engelbrecht noted that such incidents are proof that the friendly relations pursued by the Philippines under Duterte did not guarantee an easing of tensions in the West Philippine Sea.
“So despite these high level contacts, despite good diplomatic relations, we couldn’t really get rid of the tension. Of course it could have been worse, but the result there was also rather mixed in that sense because friendly relations were not fully ensured,” the expert said.
In 2021 alone, there were Chinese incursions in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. In March, hundreds of Chinese vessels swarmed Julian Felipe (Whitsun) Reef in the West Philippine Sea, and remained there for months despite repeated protests by the Duterte government. A few months after that incident, in August 2021, the Philippine military said China used flares to ward off Philippine military assets patrolling the West Philippine Sea.
In early November 2021, when Chinese coast guard vessels blocked and used water cannons on Philippine boats en route to Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.
For almost six years, the Philippine president has been giving confusing messages about the country’s relationship with China, which has been claiming some Philippine maritime features despite the 2016 Hague ruling.
When he was running for president, Duterte promised that if elected, he would assert the country’s rights against China and even jet ski to the Spratlys to prove a point. Five years later, in May 2021, the President denied that he ever vowed to pressure China in relation to the West Philippine Sea.
On various occasions occasions, the Philippine president had said he “needs China” and thanked the country for “loving the Philippines.” Duterte also never enforced the 2016 Hague ruling, repeatedly claiming that he did not want to provoke a military response for the regional giant, even if experts reminded him that such would not be the case.