How will Duterte woo pro-US Filipinos to realign with China?
While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced that he is officially separating from the US and realigning his government to Russia and China, his next challenge is how can he convince fellow Filipinos to trust China when majority of them trusted America for decades.
Duterte was in Beijing this week and he surprised Washington when he announced to a huge Chinese crowd his separation from the United States and realigned himself to China’s ideological flow.
“I’ve realigned myself in your [China] ideological flow and maybe I will also go to Russia to talk to (President Vladimir) Putin and tell him that there are three of us against the world – China, Philippines and Russia. It’s the only way,” he said.
In response, China is offering US$9 billion in credit assistance to the Philippines to boost infrastructure development, transportation and drug rehabilitation program.
While Duterte has aligned himself in China, he must have known that most Filipinos who are mostly influenced by American culture may not necessarily mean they are supporting Duterte’s pivot to China.
Senator Richard Gordon, who is a close ally of Duterte, told media that he disagreed with Duterte’s statement by saying: “You don’t have to leave your old friends that have been reliable, just because you want to get a few things.”
The Pew Research Centre reported last year that the Philippines is the most pro-US country in the world and latest Philippine survey showed that most Filipinos trust America than any other super power countries
A local poll body which conducted survey last September 24 to 27 showed that 76% of the 1,200 respondents trust the United States and only 22% of the same respondents trusted China.
To win Filipinos support for China and because of the poll data, Duterte then started to move around the Philippines advocating how China can play as the Philippine’s big brother while the US is only interested with Philippine ties because it is only benefiting them and not the Philippines.
In China, Duterte also spoke to Filipino communities and accused the US practice as unfair when it comes to the issuance of US visa. He claimed while US citizens can fly to the Philippines anytime without visa, Filipinos are having difficulty securing a US visa.
On one occasion, Duterte said that China unlike the US, has silently supporting his campaign against drugs by building rehabilitation center. Duterte accused the US for meddling into the affairs of the Philippine policy on war on drugs.
The President also stopped the war games with US and asked his defense team to review the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the US, if the Philippines is benefiting from it. The results of the assessment will determine if EDCA will still continue or will be abrogated then.
Analysts in the Philippines monitoring the Philippine-US relations believed that it will take time before China can get the trust of pro-US Filipinos but China can capitalize on visible infrastructure development assistance and increased education exchange as an entry point to the Philppines if it wants to generate higher trust rating from Filipinos.
Asian Sociology professor Dr. Adrian Semorlan said that China, unlike the US, has very little visible investments in Mindanao, the president’s hometown, and this contributed to make China unpopular to average Filipinos.
“Just like the US government, China should start assisting the Philippines not only in infrastructure programs but also in education exchange programs like how the US government is doing through its STRIDE program that built the capacity of our educators who would eventually influence the next generation of Filipinos,” Semorlan added.
Another Mindanao analyst of Mindanaons for Mindanao President Rolly Pelinggon shared Semorlan’s view that China should collaborate with Mindanao universities to develop new technologies for Mindanao’s agriculture development so China’s innovation will be visible to the Filipino people.
“Like how US became popular, China should increase post graduate fellowships for Filipinos in China so when these Filipinos will return to the Philippines, they can start advocating that China can be a good big brother,” Pelinggon added.