Embracing A Multipolar World Order: How Rodrigo Duterte Is Revolutionizing The Philippines

Authored by Federico Pieraccini via The Stratgaic Culture Foundation,

In a new global environment, centered on a multipolar world order, the Philippines offers a unique perspective for understanding the changes occurring in international relations.

With the victory of Rodrigo Duterte in May 2016, many anticipated a major change in Manila's relations with such countries as the United States and China. The Philippines has always enjoyed a privileged role in the containment strategy directed by Washington against the People's Republic of China. Since the very beginning of Duterte’s presidency, and especially during Obama's final months in office, Duterte displayed his disappointment with the United States’ use of the Philippines as a bulwark against Chinese expansion in the region. Such a role is something that a pragmatic leader like Duterte, with the interests of his nation at heart, would never accept to adopt.

Duterte’s first diplomatic visits and statements confirmed this direction, with blunt words confirming his intentions to widen cooperation and alliances with the major countries of China and Russia, as demonstrated during Duterte's visit to Beijing and Moscow.

In the months that followed, with Trump as the new occupant of the White House, Duterte greatly softened his rhetoric and moves against the United States, sensing some sort of natural affinity with Trump. Although Duterte has repeatedly shown an aversion to the imperialist policies of the American colonial masters, he seems to have a high regard for strongmen like Putin, Xi and, of course, Donald Trump, among whose company he includes himself.

Trump's victory in the 2016 election has created a common ground with Duterte: both oppose their internal establishment and have a tough way of getting along with their political enemies. Besides this, Trump is much less interested in pursuing Obama's 'Asian Pivot', a policy based on the containment of China through economic and military pressure from US allies in the region like the Philippines. Trumps looks more interested in using existing trade between the US and China as a means of harassing Beijing.

One of the main events that appears to have shaken the Duterte presidency, in addition to the internal political struggles and pressure from opposing political parties, is the terrorist attacks and clashes with Daesh in the city of Marawi on the island of Mindanao. What was meant to be a rapid operation to liberate the city from Daesh is turning out to be an urban counter-guerrilla operation with an unknown end date.

With internal pressure building up against Duterte, both from within his party and from the opposition, stemming from the difficult relationship with Washington, the North Korean crisis seems like the perfect opportunity to ease relations with Washington and seize the opportunity to silence his domestic critics.

Manila, being marginally involved in this crisis, has allowed Duterte, showing brilliant intuition, to seize this opportunity to criticize Kim Jong-un (without risking a worsening of the overall situation with the DPRK), openly supporting Donald Trump's policy as well as Beijing's diplomatic efforts. It is a win-win situation for Duterte, at once placating internal critics, following Beijing's lead, and giving credit to Trump.

Duterte seems to have realized that rather than a firm stance against Washington, a disinterested dialogue may be the best option for alleviating internal criticism by US-influenced lobbies within the Philippine establishment.

The good news for Trump's strategic planners ends here.

In addition to purchases of arms from Russia, still unclear in terms of quantity but certainly imminent, Manila and Beijing have begun a slow but inexorable rapprochement. In recent months, the discussions surrounding the Scarborough Shoal have progressed from rhetoric involving threats to cooperation and dialogue. The situation has shifted from a possible war to a major agreement summed up by the Foreign Minister of Manila, Delfin Lorenzana, thusly: «The Chinese will not occupy new features in the South China Sea nor will they build structures in Scarborough Shoal».

This statement, agreed on with Beijing, is the basis of a new conception of the multipolar world order that heavily relies on a respect for international relations. Fair negotiations grounded on common interests shared by all parties involved are what unite different countries. It represents a striking difference to the old unipolar world order where military force and power is imposed by Washington on practically every other state. Manila has every interest in developing a new and fruitful dialogue with Beijing, hoping to solve all controversies related to contested areas. The impetus for such talks seems to be economic.

The areas disputed by China and the Philippines in the South China Sea, besides being important for geostrategic reasons, contain considerable reserves of natural resources. What appears to be on the cards is an agreement between Manila and the Philippines to jointly explore territories that are undisputed by the Philippine oil and gas firm PXP Energy Corp and the China National Offshore Oil Corp. Revenues are to be divided to the effect of «60% to Manila and 40% to Beijing in any areas under the control of the Philippines authorities.”

This clarification from Alan Peter Cayetano, Secretary of Foreign Affairs, seems to have every intention of preventing internal criticism coming from politicians and entrepreneurs opposed to any collaboration or de-escalation with Beijing. Critics are using harsh rhetoric, as seen with minority lawmakers Gary Alejano and Edcel Lagman, who are opposed to the energy plan, saying it would be illegal: «This is contrary to our Constitution because these areas should be exclusively for the Filipinos,» Lagman said.

Despite the misgivings of Duterte's opponents, joint explorations are a starting point for re-establishing relations between the two countries, and seem to be a sensible choice with potential economic benefits for both countries. As explained by an administration official who prefers to remain anonymous: «What we are looking at is a deal that will first cover exploration activities in uncontested areas, areas closer to the Philippines, including Recto Bank».

Manila does not possess the technological capacity to carry out such explorations on its own, and for Beijing this strengthens its position in the South China Sea vis-a-vis other disputing countries in the region. Joint explorations highlight the benefits that arise from mutually beneficial economic cooperation with China. Overcoming tensions and conflict while making money looks like an offer too good for any country in the region to refuse. It is easy to deduce that this an asymmetrical response from Beijing in response to the American attempt to increase tensions in the region, such as with the recent appearance of Daesh on the Philippine peninsula, or with the DPRK issue.

The scope of projects between Manila and Beijing seem to indicate a clear path ahead. Using the joint exploration of important energy resources, and creating new investment projects, it looks like a clever way to create economic and political conditions for tackling more pressing issues like disputed territorial areas. Normally these diplomatic negotiations are unsuccessful and often inconclusive, since both factions are unable to make concessions to their opponents, having nothing to gain and everything to lose.

Manila and Beijing are using a common approach to reach an agreement over disputed territories, with economic plans to jointly exploit the many resources in the area being an incentive to pursue negotiations. With the alternative to cooperation, prosperity and dialogue being hostility, with the possibility of war, there is no other choice other than to cooperate to smooth out their differences.

In observing mandarin diplomacy, one will see that this is Beijing's primary strategic approach to all sorts of matters. The Belt and Road Initiative is the ultimate expression of this approach, complemented by a series of infrastructure investments in countries involved in the project that will significantly improve living conditions of their citizens.

Besides joint explorations, Beijing's infrastructure projects in the Philippines also seem to be heading in this direction. Without being naive, Manila also understands that the more China becomes important to the Philippine economy, the more leverage Beijing has over its strategic decisions. These projects all look good for their economic revenues, but China also has a broader objective, namely safeguarding its interests in what it defines as its own “backyard», referring to the South China Sea.

Duterte seems to have understood, probably better than any other leader of the multipolar international order, the opportunity to counterbalance American influence in the region through Chinese investments. In addition, asking Moscow for some help in tackling the Mindanao terror crisis could be crucial in the future. All these factors seem to have greatly strengthened Duterte’s position and that of Manila on the Asian chessboard, granting a degree of independence that has not been enjoyed over the past decade in the Philippines.


stacking12321 07564111 Mon, 08/28/2017 - 03:07 Permalink

it's good that duterte is standing up to the usa, and for philipine interests.however, let's not kid ourselves, duterte is a mass-murdering psychopath, like many world "leaders".he kills whomever he wishes under the guise of "war on drugs", but we know in the usa what a failure that is, a power grab in disguise and an attack on civil liberties.if duterte wants a rival killed, that rival will be found to have drugs on him, thus justifying the extra-judicial killing.he kills children without remorse, jokes about killing and raping, he is a demented lunatic and i hope he gets dispatched quickly, for the sake of the philipine people.https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/26/world/asia/philippines-teenager-kill…

In reply to by 07564111

stacking12321 Debugas Mon, 08/28/2017 - 03:24 Permalink

don't be a simpleton.how do you know the people he killed were "narco-dealers", as you put it? because he said so?do you understand what an extra-judicial killing is? it means there's no trial. it means the guy with the gun gets to kill whomever he feels like.would you want to live in a society where someone is legally enabled to walk up to you and kill you?don't you think the power to kill whomever someone wishes woul dbe a huge corrupting influence on society?don't you think an accused person has the right to a trial instead of just being killed, to due process? or is that too much of an old-fashioned concept for you, and maybe rambo is your hero instead of james madison?

In reply to by Debugas

Philippines Mon, 08/28/2017 - 02:58 Permalink

Um... China basically owns the Philippines. It mines/steals ore and black sand.. The majority of products from the Philippines come from China. There are multiple businessmen oligarchs who trace their roots to China. The Philippines recently bought defective public train cars from China and also weapons for the police/military to use - from China. China took over the Scarborough Shoal and also reclaimed land on a reef in the Spratlys that was supposed to belong to the Philippines.Basically, if China wanted to take over the Philippines openly, they could do so and no one would stop them. The Philippine military is so corrupt and outdated plus unskilled that they couldn't do anything to stop them.

africoman Philippines Mon, 08/28/2017 - 03:59 Permalink

It might appear that way but you over stated the taking over of China.But the guy has to choose his allies amidst this geopolitical game/schemeHe agrees somewhat what you mentioned and he planned to discuss that when the time is right.Philipin isn't the only country that falls into China lending Billions of money and investment agreement.

In reply to by Philippines

East Indian Mon, 08/28/2017 - 03:14 Permalink

Praising Trump will not stop the ISIS attacks on Phillipines. It will rather worsen the situation. Those who control ISIS hate Trump. One more clear sign the ISIS is the lap dog of America. Oppose America, see ISIS mushroom in your country.

africoman Mon, 08/28/2017 - 03:43 Permalink

Duterte has declared war on drug lords who have infested its citizens 3million at least, and he wanted them out before they infect others. Duterte also spilling the beans about the west hypocrisy and evilness of Catholic church at one time his teacher seduced him along with other students of his time<<<Wow that makes sense>>> He is at war with the west, they want him out, dead or alive, He knew it if he survived CIA assassination he wants to see his country prosperous not by bending knee but by mutual friendship and relation with China and Russia.He choose wisely.BTW, killing drug lords is the accusation for human right love democracy BS the west plot to get him out.Nevertheless, I am in agreement with his justification of doing/killing or arresting them, what one can do if they see such?

Philippines africoman Mon, 08/28/2017 - 06:46 Permalink

He pretends to be at war with the West, but true to Filipino form, he will speak anti-foreigner statements while having his hand out to receive donations and aid from foriegners.Keep in mind he is also a family dynasty politician (like pretty much every one else.) One of his daughters is the mayor of Davao city (where the president was the former mayor), and one of his sons is the vice mayor of Davao city. 

In reply to by africoman

BritBob Mon, 08/28/2017 - 03:51 Permalink

Has he struck a deal with China over the South China Sea?The South China Sea – China is acting like it owns the whole of the South China Sea but all states are entitled to claim up to 200 miles EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zones) whereby they have title to all resources.The ICJ has already determined at an earlier tribunal that No delimitation between states with opposite or adjacent coasts may be affected unilaterally by one of those states. And , The delimitation of the exclusive economic zone between states with opposite or adjacent coasts shall be affected by agreement on the basis of international law.For that and some other interesting judgments on territorial seas (3 pages) and to gain an understanding as to how the world court deals with such disputes Google: ''Falklands – Territorial Waters Academia'' Or use link:https://www.academia.edu/10574593/Falklands_Islands_Territorial_Waters 

AurorusBorealus c2nnib2l Mon, 08/28/2017 - 07:34 Permalink

Try to rule the world by force and subterfuge and that is what happens.  If it makes you feel any better, most people in the world do not blame the people of the U.S. .  Generally, average Americans traveling abroad should not encounter too much hostility, if they are polite.  I think most people understand that the U.S. government is a rogue regime that does not reflect the will of the U.S. public.

In reply to by c2nnib2l

moonmac Mon, 08/28/2017 - 07:24 Permalink

I believe we're in the End Times. Commies, Fascists, Anarchists all marching around with EBT's in their back pockets demanding more. Central Planners and their stupid minions running amuck!The Free Will of Jesus bastardized by Authoritarians and Do-Gooders. Everyone now has their own bright ideas on how to force others how to live and they get implemented with devastating effects. We now worship the Almighty State instead of God.Socialism is a curse on man. Instead of spreading Liberty our totally corrupted Ruling Mullahs have brought death and destruction slaughtering people all over the world just for growing plants that are in high demand.We help Satan consume souls by trying to legislate morality which only makes things much worse. Our sins cannot nor will be forgiven. When humans try playing God bad things always happen. Hell on Earth awaits us!Lord, please do not put me in the same group as these wicked evil men that are no better than demonic Muslims who bring their people to God at the end of a sword. They've made it so right is now wrong and wrong is now right and no amount of bullets to the head or new prisons will change it for the better but they will keep trying. 

mabuhay1 Mon, 08/28/2017 - 08:39 Permalink

China, being Communist and ahh China, will sign any agreement, and then promptly ignore it. China will do or say anything to gain an advantage, including giving small amounts of aid to the Philippines. Chinese companies will do well in the Philippines, as corruption rules there, and the Chinese are masters of that game.
Any weapons the Philippines receives from China will be the standard Chinese junk and nothing but a headache for the end users. Same for Russian light weapons, which will just increase the logistical problems by introducing new ammunition and weapons parts to the supply chain. What the Philippines needs is licensed production of light weapons, and limited import of higher tech weapons as needed. They have the ability to produce sea going vessels and other machinery, so licensed production of small patrol vessels and light armored vehicles would be an asset and help the Philippines keep more of its foreign exchange home where it is needed.
Duterte is nothing but an Old School communist thug. He dreams of dictatorship, and may actually get it. In any case, his pushing for more and more ex-judicial murders by the police and vigilantes has finally begun to wear on the Philippine public with the recent video taped execution of an innocent school kid. Nothing new, as this has been the way the Philippine police has always operated, but it is unique that it was caught on tape. As far as his distancing himself from the US, it is not for Philippine benefits, but due to his old grudge against the US, and his strong communist beliefs. He could not give a rats ass about the welfare of the Nation, as he only sees and does what is good for him and his cronies.

Rich_Lather Mon, 08/28/2017 - 09:10 Permalink

The US was supposed to protect the Philippines from external aggressors like China. China called our bluff and Obama turned chickenshit and did nothing when the chinese started building bases in the Spratley Islands well inside the Philippine EEZ. Duterte has to be realistic in his foreign policy because the US protection promise is a bunch of BS. https://www.google.com/maps/dir//9.9302695,115.5123797/@9.9303105,115.5… is obviously a military base with military aircraft, army barracks and a deep port. Why does China need all this if it weren't up to no good? Why did the US allow this to occur without some gun-boat diplomacy?They have enough troops there to require 8 basketball courts and 2 tennis courts on an island in the middle of nowhere.I suspect all those brown things in the runway median are fighter jets with covers. Looking south of the runway there are hundreds of tank obstacles. WTF?

joroco Mon, 08/28/2017 - 10:06 Permalink

There is still widespread support for Duterte. So many people have suffered as a result of drugs here that the people are glad to turn a blind eye to his methods of getting rid of the problem. Duterte was mayor of Davao, the Philippines second largest city, for 20 years prior to becoming president. It was considered to be even more dangerous than Manila before he took over but I have never heard any criticism of him as mayor. The city is promoted as one of the Philippines best tourist attractions these days.As for the terrorists, I live in Mindanao, just 90 miles from Marawi. Marshall Law hasn't changed the way of life here. Life goes on as normal. Apart from checkpoints going in to the nearby city of Cagayan de Oro, where ID is required to be shown and buses are checked for suspicious baggage etc. it is only a minor inconvenience and there is little sign of any military presence in most places. This may be a different story in areas close to Marawi.Out of personal interest, I certainly hope Duterte succeeds in rooting the terrorists out; and if he needs help from the Americans, Russians or Chinese, he should seek to obtain it.

mabuhay1 Mon, 08/28/2017 - 12:40 Permalink

Duterte doubles down on killing the poor using corrupt police and paid assassins

The Philippines always had one of the most corrupt police forces in the World, and now they really have the ability to go wild with an orgy of murder and mayhem. I have seen their corrupt ways in person, having lived and worked in the country for almost 10 years. At least under the Marcos dictatorship, the police were controlled in their corruption in order to protect the people to a small extent. It was only open season on disenters, political opponents, and communists. Now, it is everybody, for any reason at all.

William Dorritt Mon, 08/28/2017 - 15:02 Permalink

Obama, a foreign born Muslim and Citizen of Indonesia, was cutting the legs out from under the Traditional Allies of the US including the Philippines. it's no wonder that the Philippines was looking for new friends.Some sort of arrangement with China and Russia make sense given the proximity of the two countries.Completely backing away from the US is no longer in the cards with Trump's arrival and Philippine Generals desire to stay close to the US.