President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy in dealing with China reveals his softest side where he should be the strongest. “The strongman remains soft on China,” political scientist Julio Teehankee wrote on East Asia Forum. “In his public appearances, Duterte never fails to mention his special relationship with President Xi Jinping. He even pinned the nation’s COVID-19 recovery on the development of a Chinese vaccine and has pleaded to be on China’s priority list for distribution,” he added.

Teehankee questioned Duterte’s close ties with the Beijing government at a time when the international community is demanding accountability from China. He also stressed Duterte’s continuous downplay of the Philippines’ landmark arbitral victory in 2016 against China’s claims in the West Philippine Sea in exchange for bilateral economic concessions.

Duterte’s soft China policy further shone in his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA), wherein he shamelessly admitted to Filipinos that the Philippines has no option but to concede to the Asian giant’s geopolitical power. The president’s defeatist stance earned criticisms from government officials and the general public.

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