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[B-SIDE Podcast] China: Duterte’s Achilles’ heel

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Political analyst Robin Michael Garcia talks about issues affecting Philippine attitudes toward China, among them the coronavirus pandemic and the increasing tension in the West Philippine Sea. 

This episode jumps off from an April 2020 survey by polling and data analytics company WR Numero Research that found that 54% of Filipinos think of China as a good ally to the Philippines. Many things have changed since then and attitudes toward China are ambivalent. Mr. Garcia, CEO of WR Numero Research and an assistant professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific, tells BusinessWorld reporter Charmaine A. Tadalan what he thinks of Duterte’s foreign policy and how China could become the President’s Achilles’ heel.

TAKEAWAYS

The number of people that see China as a good ally will likely decrease if the economic benefits from China fail to materialize.

Mr. Garcia feels that the reason 54% of people still believe that China may be a good ally is because of the economic benefits that China may give, such as the Belt and Road Initiative. 

If these investments do not materialize, the numbers will probably dip below 54%.

The government should assert Philippine rights at sea as more Filipinos feel threatened by China. While the Department of Foreign Affairs has been sending diplomatic protests, the government should create a strategy to improve the country’s security policy 

“Rhetoric is not enough,” said Mr. Garcia. “We need to be able to create a grand strategy of improving our security policy, our security capabilities, alliance policy as well with the US and China.”

China and COVID-19 is the Duterte administration’s Achilles’ heel which may result in a decrease in his influence ahead of the 2022 elections.

“These two things may be separate but also interrelated because China is responsible for this whole mess. It will definitely affect the numbers because this is a cross-cutting issue that even the people who supported Duterte do not agree with Duterte on both,” said Mr. Garcia.

Terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States will put the Philippines at a weaker position against China’s growing aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

According to Mr. Garcia, a strong alliance with the United States is needed. “If this abrogation will continue then we will really, really be weak in the face of increasing Chinese aggression.”  

China is taking advantage of the pandemic to assert its claims in the West Philippine Sea. It is using the maritime issue to divert attention from its weak response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

The China Communist Party needs to project strength, said Mr. Garcia, and the Chinese government is rallying the country toward nationalism to distract the population from its internal problems. “That’s why from a perspective of insecurity, it’s now becoming more aggressive in the South China Sea,” he said.

Recorded remotely on July 15. Produced by Nina M. Diaz, Paolo L. Lopez, and Sam L. Marcelo.

 

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