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Foreign Policy

Why the Philippines Is Changing Its Attitude Toward the U.S.

Nov 04 , 2016
  • Wu Zurong

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for Int'l Studies

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s successful visit to China in October and the remarkable improvement of China-Philippines relations have arrested the attention of many United States officials and scholars. The U.S. has appeared worried about the possible uncertainties in the future U.S.-Philippines relations, because of the irregular remarks made by President Duterte on the subject. In fact, the changes in the Philippine attitude towards the U.S. have not happened by chance. Some of the U.S. observers have failed to recognize the hidden causes for the recent worsening relations between the two countries.

From the Chinese perspective, potentially substantial changes in the U.S.-Philippines relations have a lot to do with the three outdated practices in U.S. foreign policy. Those practices have a distinct feature of hegemonic behavior internationally, not only in the U.S.-Philippines relations, but also in Washington’s relations with quite a number of other countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Libya in the Middle East.

First, an exaggerated assessment of the role of the military in international relations has led to its excessive use by the U.S. in dealing with the Philippines and other countries. The U.S. military is superb and the most powerful in the world, and its military equipment has a lot of advantages Therefore, the U.S. has always regarded such advantages as a powerful resource that could be exploited in the maintenance of world hegemony. But the excessive use of military force and military assistance has often proved counter-productive to its desired foreign policy goals in the new era of peace and development. The expanding joint military actions with the Philippines in recent years are a case in point. The large-scale deployment of U.S. military forces in the Philippine military bases is supported by the Philippine constitution, and it is not popular in the country either.

U.S.-Philippine joint naval patrols in the South China Sea and the military deterrent redundant against China planned by the U.S. with the help of the Philippine government benefit no one in the region. These actions only help Asian countries and peoples see more clearly the selfish U.S. strategic intentions in the region, alienating Asian countries. The Pentagon’s obstinate support of “freedom of navigation” in the South China Sea has been very harmful to Sino-U.S. relations, and also to U.S. credibility in China, especially when the White House civilian officials’ opinion was overridden.  In the Middle East, U.S. airstrikes in Libya have not helped the country achieve stability, but exacerbate tension among different political groups. Military assistance has also been used to boost U.S.-Egypt relations, but it obviously has not achieved desired results thanks to the changing domestic political situation in Egypt. U.S. relations with its military ally Saudi Arabia have also been troubled in recent years. Therefore, a review by Manila of Philippines-U.S. military cooperation and of U.S. military activities in the Philippines is only natural and understandable.

Second, U.S. interference in the internal affairs of the Philippines and other countries has damaged U.S. relations with the Philippines and other countries. In the case of the Philippines, U.S. support of pro-U.S. candidates in the presidential election has aroused strong dissatisfaction from the local voters and other candidates. After being elected, President Duterte has on a number of occasions publically criticized the U.S. ambassador in the Philippines for his involvement in the Philippine presidential election. On the issue of the crackdown on drug-related crimes, Washington’s irresponsible accusations against the Philippine government under the pretext of protection human rights protection are biased. It is universally acknowledged that cracking down on drug-related crimes is the duty of the government for the sake of the people in the country. It is fully justified for the Philippines to demand that the U.S. stop interfering in its internal affairs and observe the basic principles of the United Nations Charter.

Third, the failure of the U.S. to treat the Philippines and other countries, big or small, strong or weak, as equals constitutes another irritant. According to Philippine officials, the U.S. has set out a good number of rules for the Philippines to abide by when handling domestic and foreign affairs. But Manila wants to pursue an independent foreign policy, and Philippine officials have told the U.S. that the Philippines cannot be a “little brown brother” of the U.S. forever. 

The changes in the Philippine attitude towards the U.S. have provided new lessons for Washington to learn. It is hoped that the next U.S. president and other leaders in the new administration will take steps to earnestly correct the above-mentioned three harmful practices in foreign policy. However, those practices, though outdated and harmful, may be required for the maintenance of U.S. hegemony in the world and serve the selfish interests of the U.S. Hence, their correction is no easy job.

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