Whitsun Reef’s impact on Duterte’s legacy

The presence of a Chinese flotilla in a disputed area puts the spotlight on Philippine leader’s policy of strategic meekness ahead of next year’s presidential election

Philippine Coast Guard personnel monitoring vessels, believed to be manned by Chinese maritime militia, at Whitsun Reef in the middle of this month. Beijing’s explanation that the flotilla was no more than fishing boats seeking shelter from inclement weather was cast aside by Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin.PHOTO: REUTERS

Following one of his numerous visits to Beijing, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said the best way for his country to handle ties with China was to "remain meek and humble", in the hopes of obtaining Chinese "mercy".

True to those words in 2018, he has consistently downplayed maritime disputes with Beijing, offered "co-ownership" of precious resources in the South China Sea, and repeatedly threatened to cut his country's century-old military alliance with the United States.

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