By Alex P. Vidal
NEW YORK CITY — Describing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as “an emotional person”, the director of New York University Center for U.S.-China Relations considers the Filipino leader as “more difficult to predict” than US President-elect Donald J. Trump on the issue in the South China Sea.
“If it’s difficult to try to predict Mr. Trump, it’s even more difficult to predict Mr. Duterte. So I really don’t want to be in the position of trying to predict how he would behave,” David B. H. Denoon, also professor of politics and economics, told foreign journalists in a briefing for the 2016 presidential race hosted by the New York Foreign Press Center (NYFPC) at The Westin New York Grand Central, November 8.
Denoon said there are some people who think that Mr. Duterte “is clever and that he is essentially just trying to negotiate and play China against the United States, and that he thinks he can keep the United States as the Philippines’ most important ally while insulting the American President and saying a number of very rash things.”
According to Denoon, “the foreign ministry in the Philippines has tried to back down from some of the things Mr. Duterte said in Beijing, when he said he wanted to break off the relationship with the U.S.”
He added: “I don’t think we know what he’s going to do. I think he’s very, very hard to predict. I would say the Philippines would be an absolutely critical country for anyone who believed in the original concept that Secretary Clinton put forth in terms of rebalancing towards Asia. Because if the Philippines turns out to be pro-China or hostile to the U.S., given its location close to Taiwan and given its location close to Malaysia and Indonesia, that would change the strategic balance.”
“The same thing is true of Malaysia, however. Malaysia is much smaller, but if you look at its location, the eastern provinces of Malaysia are next to Indonesia and next to the Philippines. If Malaysia becomes pro-China, then it’s going to have a dramatic effect within the region.
“The only country that has moved in the other direction and become more critical of China in the last few years is Indonesia, where the president has become extremely antagonistic to the Chinese role in Indonesian waters. In fact, Indonesians are the only people in Asia who have sunk Chinese fishing boats and have captured Chinese civilians.
“So I would say the problem with trying to predict Duterte is that we don’t know whether he’s just bargaining or whether this is his true set of views. But certainly the mainstream public in the Philippines is very positive towards the United States, and they’re all scratching their heads over what he’s trying to do.”