September 15, 2016

Filo Dictator Roddy Duterte seeking Arms from China & Russia

Note Submarine Matters', August 11, 2016 article, "ASEAN Ignores Duterte's Death Squads".

Over the last 24 hours there has been increasing reports and commentary about the Philippines very new President Duterte, talking of buying arms from Russia and more importantly China. As Duterte's statements and changes of policy have been rapid it is difficult to gauge the depth of his feelings about China and Russia. See an article from China's perspective.

This week's closeness with China and Russia may just be a Duterte bargaining posture to gain more aid and arms from Western countries. Its too early to tell. The Philippines' long coastline facing the South China Sea makes the Philippines of increasing geo-strategic and economic importance.

If the Philippines sought defence ties with the West and China and/or Russia the Philippines could be described as "non-aligned". India, with close military ties with Russia, the US, Japan and Europe, is the most powerful country that could be described as "non-aligned".


The  Philippines has been a close ally and sometime colony of the US since the US invaded the Philippines (unseating the Spanish overlords) in 1898.

The Philippines is a fragmented group of islands loosely under Manila's (the capital's) control. Military factions, competing religions, warlords and powerful (near feudal) families jockey for position in the islands and to an extent in Manila. Filipinos have a complex like/dislike relationship with the US, which they typify as "Hollywood".

-  This all makes the statements and positions of Filipino leaders unpredictable.

-  This also makes the Philippinesusceptible to domination from major powers. Since 1898
    the dominating power has been the US (for all but 3 years (1942-45) when Japan 
    dominated in WWII). 

Duterte and other Filipinos don't want their country to be on the frontline in a China-US confrontation.

If the US wants the Philippines to remain aligned with the West the US may decide to do something about Duterte. Duterte and the US are very aware that the Obama Administration is in "lameduck" mode, months before and after the US November 8, 2016 Presidential Elections. So it may not be until after the US Presidential Inauguration Day (Friday January 20, 2017)  that President Clinton or Trump can organise a Filipino tilt back to the West. In any case as China is a rising power tilting may be more difficult than before.

The US knows Duterte's style and skeletons in his closet, but this may not prevent the US miscalculating in its handling of Duterte.

The US would have built up a complicated relationship with Duterte in the years that Duterte was the most powerful man on the Philippines' large southern island of Mindanao. As Mayor of Davao City, (Mindanao's largest city), Duterte dominated Mindanao. Mindanao is where 100s to 1000s of US Special Forces have been waging a quiet war against Islamic insurgent-separatists. Significantly Duterte, on September 12, 2016, said he wants US Special Forces out of Mindanao.


On August 7, 2016 I commented:

"China being surrounded-by-hostile-island geography is probably its main obstacle. The Philippines under an increasingly unpopular President Duterte dictatorship could offer China's best opportunity to sieze (or negotiate) territory to provide a much more effective SSBN base. That base might be Subic Bay, a US base for 90 years from about 1899-1992

...Perhaps from 2040 Subic Bay with easy access to the open ocean (where SSBN like to roam) will become a Chinese Base. By 2040 Chinese SSBNs would have caught up in quietness and won't need to be bastion protected." 

Subic Bay is still important to the US Navy.



DestinationTravel said...

The Philippine's military relationship with its former colonial master, brings more problems than solutions. The Philippines has no external enemy and without a US military presence in the country it is likely a permanent peace will soon be made with the NPA. Chances of Muslim separatists reconciling with Manila are strong without US involvement in their country.

Meanwhile Philippine claims to the South China Sea are weak with the conflict being stoked by US proxies to justify their continued presence in the region. Duterte is more likely to drop ridiculous Philippine claims to an area which has historically, never been theirs. Only Vietnamese and Taiwanese claims have any validity.

If Duterte was to cut the Filipino umbilical cord to the US the region would enjoy greater prosperity and reduced military tensions. The Philippines is a desperately poor country and should not be squandering its limited resources on military hardware it does not need, because of conflicts which are not real. The US's search for an enemy to justify their massive and unnecessary military expenditure is what is preventing international peace which could start in this region.

coldSTEEL said...


PDut (Pres. Duterte) is a leftist and, understandably, leans towards China and Russia. But the problem is actually the people who voted for him to the office as they failed to grasp Duterte's way of governance, extra judicial executions and corruption (paying NPA with cash in return for peace) during his mayoral days.

With the recent economic decline that's still declining, the Filipino people have no one to blame but themselves.

Peter Coates said...

Hi Destination Travel

Very true the Philippines could do without weapons (like F-16s) and enemies.

A risk is that the Philippines' quest for more non-aligned independence may be merely dancing to China's tune. China (searching for natural resources and bases in the Philippines) may prove a more domineering power than the US has been.



Peter Coates said...

Hi coldSTEEL

Very difficult to class Duterte as "leftist". I'd say more like a faintly fascist demagogue.

Arms are more about price, sometimes alliances and efficiency than ideological politics. I see China as firstly nationalist, capitalist, Confucian dominated by a self-serving "Communist" aristocracy.

Russia seems a more authoritarian, but popular, Putin dictatorship. I'd place Duterte as a pocket Putin - quite a successful opportunist.

So, like Putin, Duterte has been playing off factions domestically and is trying to manipulate the international stage. But the Philippines is still weak - this may change.

I think Filipinos, from the poor to the Great Families, have many reasons to be scared of Duterte.



Hynniewtrep said...

This Duterte should decide whether he wants the Phillipines to be tuned int anther Tibet.

coldSTEEL said...

Hi, Destination Travel:

All your arguments suggest optimism and very subtle pro-communism veiled in non-aligned status. To wit:

1. NPA is a communist terror group, with two main factions of Marxist and Maoist ideologies. That said, your first argument only favoured the pro-communist groups. Hence, to non-align with US is to align with China and its ideology.

2. The Philippines claim in WPS or west of Palawan and Luzon or Southeast of SCS is rather very strong with both geographic and historical merits. That's why UCLOS decision favoured Philippines' claim and not China's.

3. Tension in SCS was brought about none other than Chinese greed and belligerence to a) make their "chicken"shaped country shaped like a flaming torch, and b) "protect" their commercial sea lane and logistics line to Indian Ocean. Philippines has never militarized the claim because their claim is in accordance to UNCLOS' "part of land shelf (Pag-asa and Bajo De Masinloc) and territorial history.

To argue that Philippines to cut ties with USA will only favour China especially to its bilateral talk where China stands in the position of power. That claim won't and cannot help Philippines. Rather, it only put China on the higher level of position in three dimensions of politics, military and geography in SCS claim context.

But UNCLOS and international law is Philippines' great leverage against Chinese SCS claim and military power in bullying other claimants.

coldSTEEL said...

Mr Pete:

Right you are. Many are covertly scared because this president employs unconstitutional actions in solving problems. Not because that these people are involved with drugs but because of the fact that the police can execute anyone and just claim self-defense for doing so. All without due process of law.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Durtete just realized that the Viets and Indonesians squeeze more out of the Major Players (ODA, grants, credit-lines, lower prices for hardware, mil-tech ToT, market-access), while still maintaining a healthy (althrough balance-wise favouring PRC) economic relationships with China.

Team Eurowussies

Nicky K.D Chaleunphone said...

Hi Pete,
In the current Philippine economy, I don't think they can afford any Military gear from Israel or Western Europe. I think they will most likely look to Russia, which is Far cheaper and easier on their budget.

Peter Coates said...

Hi All commenters

A very interesting discussion.

It is very difficult to tell whether Duterte is sincere about seeking Chinese and/or Russian OR he is just floating ideas to see how events play out.

Interesting 18 September 2016 article :

"...[Duterte] has hinted that the Philippines will no longer be so reliant on America for weaponry. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, 75 percent of Philippine weapons have come from America since the 1950s. But that looks set to change: Duterte said that Russia and China have agreed to a 25-year soft loan that will allow the Philippines to purchase their weapons.

...Just as the new market is opening up, the Philippines defense procurement budget leaped to $526 million—a 25 percent increase over last year. The country clearly has plans on buying more, but not from America.

Announcing the decision, Duterte said he wants to buy arms “where they are cheap and where there are no strings attached and it is transparent.” “I don’t need jets,” he continued, “F-16s, that’s no use to us. We don’t intend to fight any country.”

The sale of U.S. arms to allies in Southeast Asia has been a cornerstone in maintaining relations through the region—the use of military bases, another. Washington has had near-exclusive access to the Philippines market for decades—the Philippine-U.S. defense treaty was signed in 1951. That era is coming to a close.

The purchase of Chinese arms gives Beijing more opportunity to get involved in the Philippines. Training on Chinese operating systems, joint exercises and military cooperation are the next steps after sales are finalized. But Beijing’s plans are undoubtedly more than just military cooperation.

“The problem is what’s the quid pro quo?” asked Eduardo Tadem, a lecturer of Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines. “What will the Chinese especially get in exchange?”

Russia and China must be overjoyed at the prospect of taking Philippine business from the U.S. Both nations have worked feverishly to replace America as the go-to world power: Russia in the Middle East; China in Southeast Asia. Now both have the chance to elbow out America in the Philippines."


coldSTEEL said...

Hi, Pete,

The implication and outcome should China and Russia replaced USA in RP geopolitics would be the loss of Philippines democratic soul and values.

To replace USA in its influence is like changing an old blue cloth with a new red one, an old master with a new greedy one.

Of course, Duterte opts for cheap military equipment because he's not looking after his country's military capability against external aggression. Rather, as most communist arms were, he's going to use it against his own people. And choosing equipment from communist bloc means opening up your technology capabilities, order of battle and deployments to Chinese espionage. Now that's the worst transparency in warfare.

Peter Coates said...

Hi coldSTEEL

What happens if one (like most of the world) recognises Russia stopped being "communist" or "leftwing" in 1991 and that rightwing Duterte and rightwing Putin have opportunistic goals in common?