Duterte's tongue

Lin Shaowen Published: 2017-03-27 16:17:36
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Duterte's tongue

By Lin Shaowen

The Philippine President never fails to amaze, amuse or even puzzle the world   when he speaks.

A week ago, on September 5th, Rodrigo Duterte turned furious over US   pressuring on his crackdown upon drug trafficking and warning against   "extrajudicial killings". People heard him "cursing" President Barack Obama as a   "son of a whore", who would then only describe him as "a colourful man" making   "colourful statements". That resulted in the US cancelling a meeting between the   two leaders when they attended ASEAN sponsored-conferences in Vientiane, capital   of Laos.

The next day, September 6th, he expressed regrets through a spokesman,   echoing Obama's view that relations between the allies are strong, saying that   "our primary intention is to chart an independent foreign policy while promoting   closer ties with all nations, especially the US, with which we have had a   longstanding partnership." But Duterte continued to express anger at US   "lecturing", or keeping on "mouthing" statements about human rights in his   country.

Once in Laos, on September 7th, the two men shook hands briefly. Duterte told   Obama he never cursed him and blamed the media for distorting his statement.

The next day, September 8th, when he addressed the East Asia Summit in the   presence of Obama, he again counter attacked US history of human rights   violation, presenting a picture of mass-killing Filipino Moros during a U.S.   campaign in the southern Philippines at the beginning of the last century during   US colonial rules. Reports say the whole room was silent. Duterte waited for   response but Obama remained quiet.

And back at home, on 9th and 10th, he at least twice spoke of relations with   the US, still in critical and sarcastic tones. He did say thanks to the ally,   but for providing only "principles of law and nothing else". Instead, Duterte   thanked China, a rival in the South China Sea dispute, for helping build a drug   rehabilitation center in assistance to his anti-drug campaign.

A whole week of "slurs" and it's not rare from this "acid tongue". Earlier he   lashed out at the US ambassador in Manila, Pope Francis and the United Nations   in similar tones, as they all were also critical of his handling the anti-drug   war. Obama is just the latest, for urging Duterte to conduct his crime war "the   right way".

Lack of statesmanship? It's indeed rare to hear a head of state so   "foul-mouthed" at press conferences and international summits, lashing out at   foreign leaders. For Duterte, the Philippines' Donald Trump,acid language is   only a "habit". What's really unusual is bashing a treaty ally while praising an   "adversary" in a territorial dispute.

The logic of the illogic lies in   two aspects – national sovereignty free from foreign interference, and deep   frustration to see someone maneuvering in the South China Sea issue and turning   the matter into a really awkward dilemma.

Duturte came to office on June 30th. He won the presidency, large due to his   tough talking on drugs and he sees his victory as a popular mandate to wage war   on drugs, vowing to kill ten thousand drug criminals. More than 2000 people have   been killed during the campaign. For him, nothing seems more important than   that. For this, he rejected domestic and international criticism of his policy.   Otherwise, who would be so "rude" to the leader of the world's most powerful   nation and an ally which helped Manila win an arbitration award over sovereignty   disputes against China?

For Duterte, fighting against illegal drugs is a matter of sovereignty only   within Philippine jurisdiction. So he rejects any other country "lecturing" him,   allies or not. Should anyone meddle, he would tell them to mind their own   business, citing their own rights records. China's assistance with a drug   rehabilitation center comes at a time of need – to help reduce the number of   drug addicts. Rival? That's a different matter. Duterte just calls a spade a   spade. Besides, China, regardless of its view on his combat, never attempts to   tell him how to tackle the worst cancer of the Philippines. Make no mistake.   Duterte welcomes quiet assistance and is allergic to megaphone interference.

Then the sea dispute. Duterte certainly disagrees with China over who owns   the disputed islands, reefs and the waters. But he prefers a realistic approach,   other than an open showdown. His predecessor, Mr. Achino's efforts through the   Hague tribunal only brought him a meaningless victory merely on paper. And the   American ally cares more of its continuous dominant role in Asia Pacific and its   own "freedom of movement" in the region. That's why at the East Asia Summit in   Laos, Duterte and other ASEAN leaders, including those from countries also   involved in the disputes, made no mention of the sovereignty issue, while only   Obama and Shinzo Abe, leaders of the countries outside the region, kept pushing   China to respect and comply with the tribunal award.

For himself, this straight-talking leader said there are only two options –   fighting a war or conduct negotiations. He rightly admitted that the former   would lead him nowhere, gaining nothing on the "ground" and the latter is the   only feasible choice but now appears awkward, as the leverage is diminishing due   to the Hague ruling.

Feasible because history records China reached deals on border issues with 12   of its 14 land neighbors and partial sea disputes with Vietnam, through lengthy   negotiations. It's ready to conduct talks with other claimants over the South   China Sea issue and willing to discuss joint exploration of resources in the   region even before the sovereignty issue is resolved.

Awkward because the Hague verdict paper is there only to increase emotional   sentiments of the two peoples against any possible diplomatic compromise, thus   further diminishing the already limited leverage of either government. He feels   difficult to abandon the "paper", nor can he use it for real gains. That's why   he carefully appointed former President Fidel Ramos as his envoy to conduct   initial discussions with China and Mr. Ramos only arrived in China's   southernmost province of Hainan in his first visit as special envoy and only met   Madam Fu Ying, China's former ambassador in Manila. The real nature of this   maiden trip? It's open for whatever interpretation. Has negotiation begun? The   answer is yes and no. And on that matter, Duterte is only tight lipped.

But who knows when that acid tongue will return, against whom and over   what?

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Lin Shaowen A radio person, Mr. Lin Shaowen is strongly interested in international relations and Chinese politics. As China is quite often misunderstood in the rest of the world, he feels the need to better present the true picture of the country, the policies and meanings. So he talks a lot and is often seen debating. Then friends find a critical Lin Shaowen criticizing and criticized. George N. Tzogopoulos Dr George N Tzogopoulos is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre International de Formation Européenne (CIFE), Advisor on EU-China Relations as well as Lecturer at the European Institute of Nice and the Democritus University of Thrace. He is also Research Fellow at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy and coordinator of its Asian Studies Programme. George is the founder of chinaandgreece.com, an institutional partner of CRI Greek. His first book: US Foreign Policy in the European Media: Framing the Rise and Fall of Neoconservatism was published by IB TAURIS and his second one: The Greek Crisis in the Media: Stereotyping in the International Press by Ashgate. Xu Qinduo Xu Qinduo is CRI's former chief correspondent to Washington DC, the United States. He works as the producer, host and commentator for TODAY, a flagship talk show on current affairs. Mr. Xu contributes regularly to English-language newspapers including Shenzhen Daily and Global Times as well as Chinese-language radio and TV services. Sara Hsu Sara Hsu is an associate professor from the State University of New York at New Paltz. She is a regular commentator on Chinese economy. Benjamin Cavender Benjamin Cavender is a Shanghai based consultant with more than 11 years of experience helping companies understand consumer behavior and develop go to market strategies for China. He is a frequent speaker on economic and consumer trends in China and is often featured on CNBC, Bloomberg, and Channel News Asia. José Izquierdo Fernández José Izquierdo Fernández is Robin Li Scholar at the Yenching Academy of Peking University. José is a certified Spanish lawyer specialized in corporate law and cross-border M&A. He has extensively researched the phenomenon of Chinese outbound investments, with a particular focus on the cases of Southern Europe and Latin America. José Izquierdo holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Granada, Spain, and graduated in Law at the same university in 2016. He has worked and studied at top organizations worldwide, including Turkey, Canada, France, and China. Shafei Moiz Hali Dr. Shafei Moiz Hali studied at George Mason University, Virginia, USA and specialized in the field of International Commerce and Policy. He did his PhD from Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China specializing in Chinese foreign policy focusing on the Belt and Road Initiative and energy issues. Currently Dr. Hali is working as an Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Contemporary Studies, National Defence University (NDU) Islamabad, Pakistan. Bryonie Guthrie Bryonie Guthrie is a former South African diplomat. Now she is an analyst with Acorus Capital, a Hong Kong-based consultancy with expertise in Africa.