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    September 9, 2016

    Pacific Hegemony: Will Duterte join Putin and Xi ?

    September 9th, 2016 - Fort Russ News - 
    By J. Flores

    There are some big developments right now. Duterte has ramped up his anti-American rhetoric, despite criticisms about 'the human rights of drug traffickers and pimps' coming from western media corridors. 

    At this week's ASEAN summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow supports China’s position on the South China Sea legal dispute. He also affirmed his opposition to any interference by other parties. This is meant in part to give Filipino President Duterte some room to maneuver. 

    In light of other developments both with the firm anti-American imperialism comments made by Filipino president Duterte, China's position is generally regarded to be at odds with how south Asian states, in particular the Philippines, have interpreted the matter of these international waters. China has land-filled some natural reefs and small islands, placing trade structures there, but also has established some permanent residences on the semi-natural islands, with electricity and plumbing and has essentially claimed this as Chinese, and claimed them as habitable islands with residents. 

    The US is generally pleased with the results of the legal process so far, when on July 12th the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled that China has no legal basis to claim historic rights to the South China Sea resources, and has violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines in the country's exclusive economic zone. 

    At the same time, Duterte seems willing to make some other sort of compromise with China, given the important relationship that these two states have, and especially in light of Duterte's increasingly anti-American stance. 

    Just yesterday, in what attendees described as a "fiery address," President Rodrigo Duterte ad-libbed during his prepared speech on Thursday and targeted President Barack Obama, telling some ugly truths on US military killings in the Philippines. This happened at a meeting of the 18-nation EAS summit, always held right after the ASEAN group meeting, which includes the United States. This was according to three diplomats who were in the room who spoke to Agence France-Presse at the event in Vientiane, Laos.

    "The Philippine president showed a picture of the killings of American soldiers in the past and the president said: 'This is my ancestor they killed. Why now we are talking about human rights,'" an Indonesian delegate said. The Philippines was an American colony from 1898 to 1946.

    Embarrassed by a guerrilla massacre of US troops on the Island of Samar, General Jacob H. Smith retaliated by carrying out an indiscriminate attack upon its people, killing every male over 10 years of age.

    Earlier during the ASEAN portion of the same general meeting, Putin said: "Chairman Xi Jinping and I have developed very trusting, I would say friendly, relations. But he never – I want to emphasize this – never approached me requesting to somehow comment, somehow intervene in the matter [...] We of course have our own opinion on this matter. It is that, first of all, we do not interfere and we believe that any intervention of a non-regional power goes only to the detriment of settling these issues. The intervention of third-party non-regional powers, in my opinion, is harmful and counterproductive," he added. For those just catching up with the lexicon, 'non-regional powers' means the United States. 

    The issue of the Philippines claim against China stems from before the rise of Duterte as a sovereign leftist force in Filipino politics. The ruling came after Manila filed a case in January 2013 accusing Beijing of violating the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. "We stand in solidarity and support of China's position on this issue – not to recognize the decision of this court… This is not a political position, but purely legal. It lies in the fact that any arbitration proceedings should be initiated by the disputing parties, while the arbitration court should hear the arguments and positions of the disputing parties. As you know, China did not address the Hague arbitration and no one listened to its position there. How can you recognize these decisions as fair? We support China's position on this issue," Putin stressed. Beijing’s territorial claims to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which are believed to be rich in oil and gas reserves, run counter to those of the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.

    However, Duterte is now angling his island nation as a sovereign regional state, distancing itself from its historic ties to the United States - the US has essentially treated Duterte's homeland as a colony ever since it claimed Spain's rights to it in 1898 in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War of the same year, despite formal independence in 1946.

    If the Philippines is willing to make a side agreement with China, it would further solidify China and Russia's position that the July ruling is without legal merit. This could signify a realignment in the region, forcing Japan and Indonesia to respond and adjust its policy in ways that are both predictable and readily able to be dealt with. Vietnam is already a close Russian ally, and Taiwan is increasingly dependent on and close to China, despite the shallow rhetoric of its political class. 

    This process would, once again, leave Japan as the odd-man out. The US would like to arm Japan on yet another problematic course, so in order to avoid a repeat of history, Japan will likely be forced to adjust its political policy to match its actual economic policy: a high volume of trade with China. In 2010, China overtook Japan as the world's second-largest economy. 

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