Today the U.S. media reported that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte allowed Russian Navy ships to enter the island nation’s territorial waters and ports. Washington’s reaction is as yet unknown. But one would think Donald Trump would hardly be pleased by such a turn of events. Against the backdrop of such initiatives by a once-tamed country, the whole “Make America Great Again” image might nevertheless become a bit comical.
Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that the Philippines is a kind of gateway to the Pacific region, which is one of the most important regions for the U.S. from both an economic and political perspective. In fact, it was precisely on account of Manila’s skillful pushback against Beijing that the Americans managed to contain the growth of China’s influence for many years. China has longstanding claims to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.
The issue here isn’t so much a “restoration of historical justice,” on the basis of which Japan has been pestering Russia for “its” share of the Kuril Islands for decades now. China’s interest is explained by the resources concentrated there. And the resources, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, are almost 5.5 billion barrels of oil and more than 55 trillion cubic meters of gas, a none-too-shabby bit of help for a new world-No. 1 economy that’s almost totally dependent on the import of its energy.
For the sake of “protecting” this Philippine property from Beijing’s imperial claims, the Americans literally stuck the archipelago with its military bases as if with pins. But since his first days in office, President Duterte has explained in plain language that he doesn’t need such help from the United States. Instead, the odious leader has gone so far as to seek rapprochement with China itself — and Russia too. Life News has already written about the economic cooperation between Manila and Moscow. Now, by the look of things, the time has come for a geostrategic revolution in their relations.
Duterte already once let slip that the triad of “the Philippines, China, and Russia” had defied the forces of the West. Yet the statement was taken as yet another empty sound bite, similar to the president’s vulgarisms about Obama and the European Union. Now, having given the Russian Navy the green light, Manila has moved from words to deeds. It’s no secret that Rodrigo Duterte’s policy has a lot of detractors not only in the U.S. but also in the Philippines itself. Not so long ago, there was a confrontation between the president and the country’s defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana. In response to Duterte’s warm words about Beijing and information that emerged about the imminent start of construction of Chinese infrastructure on the disputed territories of the Scarborough Shoal, he reminded the public through the press that “China can’t be fully trusted, while cooperation with the U.S. is the best option for the Philippines.”
One would think Duterte himself understands the danger China poses. Still, China’s growing economic body demands ever more resources with each passing year and is unlikely to stop, even taking into account the warming in relations with Manila. It’s just that for the role of protector in this game, Duterte has chosen not Washington but Moscow. Yes, Russia and China are seemingly acting as a united front. But that’s merely at first glance. Beijing never shortened the distance of its communication with a partner that it still perceives as a supplier of raw materials and some kind of plumb bob that allows it to become equal with the U.S. on the global scales.
It’s not only Moscow that understands this. It’s also understood by Manila, which, after inviting yet another force into the region, has turned from the plaything of two superpowers into a full-fledged member of the Pacific strategic party.