The sinking of a Filipino fishing boat by a Chinese vessel has dealt a heavy blow to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s shift towards Beijing and highlighted the risks to the region from China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, according to analysts.
Duterte has been criticised in the Philippines for his response to what he called a “little maritime incident” on June 9, when a Chinese vessel collided with the Filipino boat near Reed Bank in the disputed South China Sea.
The 22 Filipino fishermen on board the boat, which Manila said was anchored at the time, were later rescued by Vietnamese fishermen.
Duterte – who has expanded economic ties with Beijing and eased off on South China Sea issues – initially responded by saying that he could not stop China from fishing in Philippine waters, only to backtrack under public pressure.
Observers said this not only undermined the Philippine president’s policy on China and China’s influence in the Philippines, but could prompt others in the region to reassess their approach to Beijing and its maritime militia.
Richard Heydarian, a Manila-based academic and author, said Chinese interests were hurt by a weaker Duterte, who was “haemorrhaging political capital” as political allies and the Philippines defence establishment criticising his position.