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The days when attracting the ire of the United States was enough to submit a less powerful country into obedience may now be over. In recent years, U.S. sanctions and other forms of political or economic penalties — such as reducing or eliminating aid, military support, trade incentives or investment — for human rights or other transgressions have been backfiring by pushing “cut off” countries into establishing closer ties with China to fill the diplomatic vacuum.|
The latest example of this may be the Philippines, a long-time U.S. political and military partner and former colony.
FILE – In this Sept. 13, 2016 file photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, center, poses with a fist bump with Defense Chief Delfin Lorenzana. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez, File)
After 20 years of being the hard-nosed mayor and congressman of Davao, the Philippines second largest city after Metro Manila, Rodrigo Duterte took his act national. Winning the presidential election and taking office in June of this year, he immediately set in motion a full-scale crime eradication initiative aimed primarily at drug dealers. As the means to these ends have reputedly involved the extra-judiciary deaths of over 3,000 suspects in three months, Duterte rapidly attracted the scorn of the U.S., EU and UN, among others, who accused him of potential human rights violations. The U.S. also reportedly began refusing the Philippines arms sales.
Duterte did not take these criticisms and denial of weapons passively, and verbally struck back at his Western critics with a slew of unconventionally brash insults, threats and taunts. Chief among these was a promise to “break up with America,” end joint drills with the U.S. military, and instead establish closer ties with China and Russia. Variations of “I can always go to China” have become some of his most common rebuttals.
“If you don’t want to sell arms, I’ll go to Russia. I sent the generals to Russia and Russia said ‘do not worry, we have everything you need, we’ll give it to you.’ And as for China, they said ‘just come over and sign and everything will be delivered,’” was one of Duterte’s much-quoted statements.
Whether anything really comes of the hotheaded president’s current position other than some temporary hesitation on the part of Western investors remains to be seen, but what is highlighted is the growing trend of U.S. and E.U. economic and political penalties designed to pressure countries for reputed humanitarian abuses instead pushing them into closer relations with China — a country which strategically avoids the human rights discussion altogether.