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Philippines election: ties with China at stake

Reporter: Barnaby Lo 丨 CCTV.com

05-05-2016 10:56 BJT

The territorial dispute in the South China Sea between China and the Philippines has defined ties between both countries in the last few years. The current administration, led by President Benigno Aquino, has taken a tough stance on the South China Sea. This has damaged ties strengthened during the Arroyo years.

How do you solve a problem like the South China Sea? With the territorial dispute between China and the Philippines unlikely to be resolved before President Benigno Aquino III steps down in June, it is a question men and women aspiring for the Philippine presidency are now having to answer.

One of the things the Aquino administration will surely be remembered for is its strong nationalist stance on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea. That has made it the most important foreign policy issue in this election. At stake is not only the relationship between China and the Philippines, but regional peace and stability.

That is probably why most of the five presidential candidates have been careful not to upset both China and the prevailing nationalist sentiment.

“We don’t see eye to eye on certain issues but I think it will be for the benefit of the region for us to all get along. But as president, I will always always the welfare of my countrymen first and foremost, and if that means bridging gaps between countries, I will do it,” said Grace Poe, presidential candidate.

“I think all of them realize that the status quo is unsustainable. There has to be engagement with China. You can choose your friends, you cannot choose your neighbors. As Niccolo Machiavelli says, ‘Keep your friends close, perhaps keep your rivals even closer,’” said Richard Javad Heydarian, political analyst.
Vice-president Jejomar Binay was once the frontrunner in the elections. But allegations of corruption have hit him hard, and his openness to talk to China directly has not been beneficial to his campaign. The frontrunner in this elections, Rodrigo Duterte, however, has emerged unscathed despite advocating a similar approach.

“Multilateral or bilateral, it’s the same. We have to talk and what I need from China is not anger. What I need from China is help develop my country,” said Rodrigo Duterte, presidential candidate.

And if it were up to him, he says he would not count on the Americans coming to the Philippines’s rescue, and would have even considered dropping an arbitration case the Aquino administration filed against China.

Rodrigo Duterte also said, “If we cannot enforce, and if the United Nations cannot enforce its judgment, then what the heck? What are we supposed to do? Just sit there and wait for somebody to take our cudgels and go to war or demand obedience from China? For what?”

The court, however, is expected to make a decision soon, a decision that could influence the next move of the next Philippine president.

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