Philippines President Duterte Using China Leverage to Strike Better Aid Deal with Donald Trump?

United States foreign aid dollars, and even police training, have been supporting for several months large-scale systematic street executions of supposed drug dealers and users in the Philippines. Now, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who has promoted the escalation of the drug war in the country since his election in the summer, is expressing his dislike for the US government’s Millennium Challenge Corporation postponing a decision on renewal of potentially several hundred million dollars in US aid to the Philippines government in order to review “concerns around rule of law and civil liberties.”

Duterte sounds angry from his comments in response. And he may be angry. But, Duterte’s comments also may be designed to place him in a good position to strike a more advantageous US aid deal with President-elect Donald Trump.

A Saturday report from the Associated Press relates that Duterte has reacted to the US foreign aid announcement by saying he welcomes not being given the aid, “bye-bye America,” and the Philippines “can survive without American money.” Plus, the Associated Press report further notes that Duterte, in his comments, said that the US should “prepare for the eventual repeal or the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement.” In other words, Duterte is suggesting the Philippines is ready to respond to an aid cut-off by terminating the Philippines’ cooperation with the US military.

Indeed, it may be that Duterte’s earlier talk of reducing ties with the US and increasing ties with China is the primary, though unspoken, motivation for the Millennium Challenge Corporation’s announcement regarding Philippines aid.

This all sounds like great news for advocates for a noninterventionist US foreign policy: There may soon be a significant reduction in US foreign aid to the Philippines and a termination or substantial curtailment of US military operations with the nation.

However, it is too early for noninterventionists to celebrate.

At the same time Duterte was saying “bye-bye” to the US he also said his nation can instead receive aid from the Chinese government and expressed an affinity with Donald Trump. “I will let Obama fade away and if he disappears, then I will begin to reassess,” said Duterte.

How should we interpret Duterte’s comments overall? It seems that Duterte may, like Trump, see himself as a great dealmaker. Knowing Trump’s repeatedly expressed concerns about China, what better way to ensure much US aid continues to flow to the Philippines government, and maybe even increases substantially, than to threaten to end military cooperation with the US and to increase ties with China? And, to help make negotiations move forward smoothly, it may not hurt to compliment the US leader across the negotiating table, especially when that leader is prone to categorize people into “friends” and “enemies.” “I have talked to Trump, he was very nice, very courteous,” Duterte said. This type of compliment is in stark contrast with the type of language Duterte has used to describe President Barack Obama.

Reprinted with permission from the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity.

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