18 b STRATEGIC VISION
photo: Joshua Fulton A US Navy chaplain delivers supplies to a Philippine soldier at the Olongapo Social Development Center. Such cooperation may soon be a thing of the past.
while also ending joint patrols with US forces in the South China Sea. The risks of Duterte’s approach towards China and the South China Sea lie not in whether he talks to China or moves the Philippines closer to Beijing, but how he does so. Specifically, the true danger of Duterte’s approach to China and the South China Sea is that his administration will seek to engage Beijing in a way that disregards potential security problems, and undercuts the ASEAN regional unity and global solidarity needed to constrain Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea. Domino effect For the United States, the risks of Duterte’s approach to China and the South China Sea could bring a major setback to its rebalancing policy for the Asia-Pacific. More countries in the region may follow suit. If this happens, the US would, expectedly, lose its influence gradually in the Asia-Pacific and would fail to achieve its rebalancing goal. The pillar, which used to be considered the most solid one in the region, has become
unstable. Since Duterte has no intention of backing down on the human rights issue, it is reasonable to believe that Washington might possibly turn a blind eye to this issue in order to save its valuable alliance. However, the territorial disputes in the South China Sea cannot be ignored because of this developing partnership. In fact, Duterte has warned of a “bloody” confrontation should China try to invade the country’s territories in the disputed South China Sea. Similarly, it is also unlikely that the Philippines will eventually distance itself from the United States which is its traditional and long-term ally, even though tensions between two nations is increasing. The Philippines has no way to ignore US global influence and military power. By cooperating with two superpowers and asserting its independence, Duterte no doubt believes he is upholding his country’s best interests. It remains to be seen how long he can maintain his balance on this tightrope. n