File photo: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Photograph:( Reuters )
In February, Philipino President Duterte said he won't allow American troops to operate on his soil and scrapped a two-decade-old agreement.
Chinese president Xi Jinping is now ready to take the diplomatic ties with Philipines to next level but what's in it for China?
In February, Philipino President Duterte said he won't allow American troops to operate on his soil and scrapped a two-decade-old agreement. China surely likes such a friend. America's exit would mean china's entry, or so it is hoped. But America is also the main defence ally of the Philippines. Provider of military hardware and training. Duterte's generals do not want to lose that, not when China is trying to capture the south china sea.
Over the past three months, China has pointed a laser gun at a Philippine warship. A Chinese vessel even rammed into a philippine boat, causing it to sink in the disputed waters. China has turned seven reefs claimed by the Philippines into artificial islands and militarised them.
Despite all of this, Duterte has made it clear that Beijing is a preferred economic partner. He learnt no lessons from his China-sceptic predecessor Benigno Aquino.
Aquino famously took China to international court over south china sea disputes. Without realising it, Duterte is now caught between China and the US. Now, there are plans to fix an airstrip on an island in the south china sea.
That may draw Beijing's fury. He is desperate to show that his pro-china stance will pay-off. For this, he has drawn the fury of the philippine public. In 2018, during Xi Jinping's visit to the Philippines, Duterte's citizens made it clear they do not want Chinese interference, and that they do not want Chinese money.
There is near-absence of any Chinese infrastructure investments. Only increased militarisation of the south china sea. So Duterte got cold-feet and took a u-turn and went back to tell the US that he won't scrap the visiting forces agreement. So, US troops will remain in the Philippines. By doing this,
Duterte has put the Philippines in the middle of the US-China political stalemate. The renewed push from China has come at a time when it lacks allies in the region. It is easy for China to bring Duterte to the table. There are many similarities between the leaders too.
Duterte wants the law to suit his needs While Xi is the law in China. For now, the Philippines has the US by its side. Another mistake and, Manila will have to deal with Beijing all by itself.
Duterte is slowly, but surely playing into the hands of Xi's China.