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East or West: Does Duterte know the best?

“There are three of us against the world: China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way.” declared the President of Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, in a lavish conference in Beijing. “America has lost now. I’ve realigned myself in your ideological flow.” These words left no room for doubt about where the Philippines’ allegiance lies….or so it seems. This is because just a few days after this scathing attack on the US, Duterte reassured Japan that his China visit was just “economics”.

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President Duterte of Philippines shakes hands with the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.

He also vowed to stand by Tokyo on the South China Sea issue. So what are Duterte’s true intentions? Where is Duterte leading Philippines? Let’s find out…

Before venturing further, we need to realise that the destiny of a country is often controlled by its leader. Thus the temperament and attitude of the Philippines’ President will play a huge role in choosing the   Philippines’ path for the future. Thus, we need to analyse what and how Duterte thinks.

“Tough-talking” may be the most-used description for the former Davao city mayor and President Rodrigo Duterte, but it seems that his attitude and personality are caused by a psychological condition. The International Council of Psychologists, concluded that Duterte was suffering from “Antisocial Narcissistic Personality Disorder,” a condition characterized by “gross indifference, insensitivity and self-centeredness,” “grandiose sense of self-entitlement and manipulative behaviors” and “pervasive tendency to demean, humiliate others and violate their rights and feelings.”

These symptoms exactly mimic Duterte’s behaviour and his dislike for the US. In fact, the President feels personally humiliated by the fact that his country is just a pawn in the hands of the United States.He is self-centered, and wants his country to be a big player on the world stage. For the longest time, the Philippines has always been perceived, even treated as a surrogate or vassal state and not as an ally of the US, especially in terms of its foreign policy directions. This is exactly the kind of thing which gets on Duterte’s nerves.And don’t forget that Duterte thinks of himself as a strongman: exactly like the Chinese President, Xi Jiping. This has resulted in a kind of personal relationship between the two leaders.

The thought that a single individual can control the destiny of a 100 million people seems horrifying. But the reality is that Duterte is more of a talker than a man of action. Just look at how the President’s behaviour varies from Washington D.C. to Tokyo to Beijing. When he was meeting President Obama, he called the US as an “indispensable partner”. In Beijing he lashed out at the US and Japan. In Tokyo he called Japan a “special friend”. This shows that the Duterte’s behaviour fluctuates and he simply can’t stick to a stance.

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President Duterte chairing a business conference in Beijing, China.

Whether Duterte does what he says or not, his rhetoric is sure impacting business and the economy. US businesses have pulled out over $10 billion from Philippines in just the previous two weeks. This is hurting the Philippines’ already struggling economy, shooting the national debt up by 5%. This is a clear signal that backing out of an US alliance is easier said than done.

The US leadership knows that Duterte will not walk the talk on separation and it has calmly responded to the threat of seperation saying that Duterte’s remarks were “at odds” with the “close relationship” shared by the countries. The US also chided Duterte for creating unnecessary uncertainty by giving ‘casual and careless’ remarks.

With such remarks, the Philippines’ leader has just alienated many US allies in the region including Japan, Australia, and Vietnam which might be the start of an era of Philippines’ isolation. Duterte’s irresponsible behaviour is helping no-one and puts a big question mark on the whole US system of alliances and treaties. It is threatening the current world order, and might abet the evolution of the South China Sea as a potential military flash point. Given the current scenario, a sustainable solution to the South China Sea issue does not appear to be on the horizon.

Note:- All the opinions stated in the above article are the author’s own.

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