Duterte’s undermining of ASEAN


If the main foreign policy objective of Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte was to make his archipelagic nation the centre of international relations concerns in the Asia Pacific, he has succeeded beyond expectations.

Coined a “popularly elected despot” by Chito Gascon of the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights, Duterte’s diplomatic flurries within Asia have sparked conversations among international observers, many of which have concentrated on their implications for the US pivot to Asia and US–China rivalry.

Ironically, the election of another loud-mouthed “boy-man” demagogue, Donald Trump, may have changed the equation. If “The Donald” applies his user-pay principle to the US security umbrella, it is conceivable that a divorce between the two countries by mutual consent could become possible.

This seems unlikely, not only because of the popularity of the US–Philippines alliance on both sides of the Pacific, but also because there appears to be a blooming “bromance” between the Filipino president and the US president-elect. Duterte has already appointed José EB Antonio, a Filipino business partner of the US president-elect and builder of Manila’s own Trump Tower, as his special trade envoy to the United States.

Seen from Hanoi, the challenge of Duterte is not a weakening United States presence in the Pacific but the deleterious effects of his presidency on ASEAN. Vietnam was set to benefit greatly from the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling in The Hague on China’s nine-dash line claims in the South China Sea.