Duterte’s South China Sea dilemma


Fresh into office, the Philippines’ newly-elected President Rodrigo Duterte is set to face arguably his toughest foreign policy challenge. Though much of his political capital is currently directed at addressing domestic predicaments, particularly the proliferation of drugs and criminality, he will have no choice but to play high-stakes diplomacy in coming days.

Phillippine President Rodrigo Duterte stands during the swearing-in ceremony at the Malacanang Palace in Manila
Phillippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who seeks better ties with China, faces stark choices after the Hague court ruling on July 12
Whether he wants it or not, Duterte will have to confront the reality that the Philippines has been thrust right into the heart of one of the century’s most vexing geopolitical flashpoints: the South China Sea disputes. Great powers are already chipping in. In the past month or so, both the United States and China have conducted massive naval exercises in the area, an unmistakable show of force against each other.

America conducted a dual-carrier naval drill, deploying the Washington-based USS John C. Stennis — the pivot of the Carrier Strike Group Three, along with guided missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon, USS William P. Lawrence, and USS Stockdale and Aegis cruiser USS Mobile Bay — as well as the Yokosuka-based USS Ronald Reagan, part of the Carrier Strike Group 5. The two gargantuan carriers were accompanied by a whopping 80 F/A-18 Hornets, a total of 140 aircraft, along with almost 700 missile silos.