President Duterte, the South China Sea and ASEAN

President Duterte, the South China Sea and ASEAN

President Duterte, the South China Sea and ASEAN

By Kelly Bailey from Perth USAsia Centre | 10 Mar 2017

President Duterte, the South China Sea and ASEAN teaser

Professor Richard Heydarian, Manila-based academic, columnist and author visited the Perth USAsia Centre in March and delivered a lecture on how the assertive policies of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte is shaping the escalating South China Sea dispute and wider East Asian geopolitics.

Key takeaways

  • President Duterte is highly popular, but the Philippine population is critical towards his foreign policy vision, particularly towards his anti-US sentiment and pro-China leanings. Duterte's strong approval ratings, his dismissal of the United States (US) and gravitation towards China has met with notable domestic criticism.

  • The Philippines foreign policy of today has become increasingly pragmatic and transactional. Professor Heydarian argues that President Duterte's pro-China stance is simply strategic pragmatism, with President Duterte cognisant to the fact that in an increasingly post-US world, the Philippines must be more pragmatic and transactional with the 'Great Powers'

  • The US - Philippines relationship may be significantly different under President Trump. Professor Heydarian contends that if the Trump administration maintains a soft policy on Filipino human rights issues, a strategic reset in their bilateral tensions could be achieved

  • Foreign policy swings in the Philippines in not uncommon. If China refuses to make concessions in the South China Sea, Professor Heydarian believes that President Duterte could rapidly develop a hostile stance towards China. Such a swing would heighten tensions in the region, amidst is a very fluid situation


Kelly Bailey is an intern at the Perth USAsia Centre

Back To News Stories