Last week, Rodrigo Duterte, the combative and mercurial new president of the Philippines, made high-profile visits to China and Japan, which have the two largest economies in Asia. In Beijing, Duterte offered alarming comments about his desire to “separate” from the United States, the Philippines’ sole military ally and security guarantor. In his typical off-the-cuff manner, he publicly mused that it would be preferable to join in some trilateral relationship with China and Russia, rather than focus on Manila’s relationship with Washington.
China, looking to seize on Duterte’s vitriol against the U.S., offered him a massive suite of soft loans, investments and aid, totaling $24 billion. China then reportedly began restraining the actions of its coast guard against Philippine fishing vessels around the contentious Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. The move is largely seen as a soft concession to Duterte for his diplomatic U-turn with Washington.
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