FIRING LINE: 180-degree turn?

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By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

Remember the presidentiable who said he’d ride on a jet ski to Scarborough Shoal and plant the Philippine Flag on a China-built airfield?

Actually, that was quite a trick; because there’s no such structure built on Scarborough as there are in nearly every other territory of ours in the Spratlys, thanks to China’s bullying incursions.

But, boy, did I fancy that guy in the third presidential debate in 2016! We seemed to have lost him, though, when he won the presidency — shrugging his shoulders two years later before a gathering of the SWAT and said the whole nationalistic Rambo affair was just a joke.

Since then, everything else about Duterte’s diplomatic policy towards China and our claim to the West Philippine Sea islands has gone to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

This administration has always given China an inch, whether it be in our exclusive economic zone of the West Philippine Sea or Philippine Offshore Gaming Operators (POGOs) or Chinese industrialists getting a piece of the action in government contracts or winning more pleasant words from the President when China and the United States co-exist in his speeches.

So, imagine my shock and awe when Duterte showed flashes of an iron leader with serious “fishballs” — no, bigger: squidballs! — when he faced China’s visiting defense chief last Friday in Malacanang.

To Chinese Defense Minister Wei Fengshei, Duterte said: “We must always be guided by our commitments in international law. Any and all disputes must be resolved peacefully in full accord with the UNCLOS and all relevant international instruments.”

Of course, Duterte had already cited the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Seas (UNCLOS) in the ASEAN Summit last June; but to say this to the face of China’s defense chief? That’s like slapping China with Manila’s victory in the July 2016 international arbitral tribunal ruling that invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims over nearly the entire South China Sea.

Whether he read it from a script or said it straight from his heart, that’s serious “squidballs” — and extra spicy!

And to think that this happened in the same week when the Philippines seemed to have warmed up with the US, following Duterte’s absolute pardon and quick release of American GI — Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton.

Are we seeing a 180-degree turn in the President’s binary diplomatic policy towards the Superpowers of the East and West? Or shall we find out in the next few weeks or months that this is just another of his silly jokes China and the whole world can laugh at?

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SHORT BURSTS. For comments or reactions, email firingline@ymail.com or tweet @Side_View. Read current and past issues of this column at https://thephilbiznews.com

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