Duterte’s tightrope walk
China will insist that President Duterte abrogate the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague before conceding to any Philippine demand. This is nonnegotiable for the Philippines because it will affect all future deals. If China insists, he should walk out.
He should not ask for fishing rights to which we are inherently entitled. By seeking permission, he concedes that we do not have those rights unless China gives them. It also implicitly abrogates the arbitral court’s ruling.
Mr. Duterte should focus not only on fishing rights but also on joint oil-gas exploration and extraction, where we are the landowners and China is the investor. The landowners should have a substantial share. Western oil-gas firms always gave the tail of the fish to us. If China agrees to this, he should defer determining the exact sharing scheme until our energy and trade departments do research, especially past Russian and Chinese oil-gas deals worldwide. Joint exploration will hopefully dissipate US-China tensions and demilitarize the disputed area.
The agreement can be a model for all future Southeast Asian deals.
There were past joint exploration deals, like the one between Philippine and Chinese firms, which were shelved because of the arbitral court’s hearings. Mr. Duterte should revive these immediately, as a preparation to the dialogue, to thaw the ice.
Bilateral deals are dangerous because China will always deal from a position of strength and superiority, using trade threats if Mr. Duterte does not concede. He should avoid knee-jerk moves and defer decisions until research and studies are made. It is a chess game and he should be given time, not coerced into sudden decisions fraught with traps. He must be gentle as a dove but wise as a serpent, not gullible or weak, which the Chinese will exploit.
China immediately wanted to talk to Mr. Duterte when he started hitting the United States, giving hints to reconsider the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, and leaning toward Russia and China. This is our ace, but Mr. Duterte should be careful because he walks the tightrope between two giants who have conflicting agenda. It is a complex dilemma: how to lean on China commercially and to lessen US military presence all at once.
Mr. Duterte should avoid making nonsensical statements. I am confident he will not be easily wined and dined during the talks, although his geopolitical experience is practically nil.
BERNIE V. LOPEZ, [email protected]
Subscribe to our opinion newsletter
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.