Just a few hours after assuming the Presidency, Rodrigo Duterte already expressed his desire not to antagonize China. In his first meeting with members of his Cabinet, Duterte said the country should not “taunt or flaunt” the then-looming decision of the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in favor of the Philippines in its territorial dispute against China.
True enough, then-foreign affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay was noticeably listless when he announced the administration’s official response to the ruling when it came out. In the succeeding months, various foreign observers have noted the Duterte administration’s obvious efforts to move away from the United States and closer to China and Russia.
Duterte’s confused foreign policy toward China can be illustrated in the to quotations below. He said the first one during the third and final debate last April 24, 2016 while he said the second one during a speech last March 20:
Duterte during the debates (4/24/2016):
“I will ask the Navy to bring me to the nearest point in South China Sea that is tolerable to them and I will ride a jet ski. I will carry a flag and when I reach Spratlys, I will erect the Filipino flag. I wil tell them (Chinese), Suntukan o barilan?”
Duterte from yesterday (3/20/2017):
“We cannot stop China from doing this thing. Di nga na-para ng Amerikano [Americans weren’t even able to halt it.] So what do you want me to do? What do you want? Declare war against China? I can, but we’ll all lose our military and policemen tomorrow.”