Foreign Policy 3 May 2021
Since his election in 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has time and again underscored his anti-U.S. and pro-Chinese orientation. On his first trip to Beijing in 2016, he announced it was “time to say goodbye to Washington”—much to the delight of his host, Chinese President Xi Jinping. He has welcomed Chinese Belt and Road Initiative investments, has threatened to suspend joint military exercises with the United States, and calls China “a good friend.”
But in the course of a year, Duterte appears to have done an about-face on China, frustrating Beijing’s attempts to pull Manila out of Washington’s strategic orbit. On Sunday, Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. unleashed an expletive-laced Tweet on Beijing, telling it in no uncertain terms to to get out of the South China Sea, where the two countries have been embroiled in a dispute. “You’re like an ugly oaf forcing your attentions on a handsome guy who wants to be a friend; not to father a Chinese province,” he wrote.
Locsin’s Twitter storm is only the latest indication that Beijing’s rising assertiveness—especially its challenge to the Philippines’ internationally recognized maritime claims—has finally forced Manila’s hand. Duterte now recognizes, in spite of his continued rhetoric to the contrary, that China is no friend, and the Philippines needs its long-standing security ally—the United States—after all.
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