Duterte’s Shift Towards China Exposes PM Lee’s Rudderless Leadership Of Singapore

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony in Beijing, China, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, center, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony in Beijing, China, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016.

BY FRANK DOE
Duterte’s shift towards China spells serious trouble for ASEAN centrality, more so when the Philippines will take over the ASEAN chair from next year. Cambodia and Laos, the other ASEAN nations, have already pivoted towards the Middle Kingdom and Malaysia looks set to be the next when Najib visit China, starting Monday.

Malaysia is expected to cut deals buying Chinese Littoral Mission ships when Najib visits Beijing and this will be Malaysia’s first significant defence deal with China, an important departure from the past.

When Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak arrives in Beijing, Monday, for a week-long visit, chief among his concerns will be to secure investments that can boost Malaysia’s economy. Immensely different from when our leadership visited China to invest to boost China’s economy (SIP, Tianjin Eco City, Chongqing Raffles City Mall and many more) while our own economy is rapidly on the decline.

Najib Razak shakes hands with China's President Xi Jinping, in this 2014 file photo.
Najib Razak shakes hands with China’s President Xi Jinping, in this 2014 file photo.

The recent comments made by Singapore with regards to the Hague Tribunal ruling on the South China Sea dispute between China and the Philippines has angered China in ways unimaginable and Singapore is not even a claimant state in this regard.

The Prime Minister’s interview to the Time Magazine last week, in which he praised the United States’ foreign policy while running down China’s as a ‘lollipop’ one may have angered the Chinese further.

Singapore has failed miserably in its current role as the coordinator of ASEAN-China relations and have exposed the immaturity and naivety of our leadership in the handling of geopolitics and foreign affairs. Always being out-manoeuvred and out-classed on all counts.

Duterte, despite his rambunctious persona, displayed sharp powers of judgement and astuteness when dealing with China.

The Chinese vessels are no longer seen patrolling the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea and the Filipino fishermen are now free with their bountiful catches therein. This is in less than a week after Duterte visited Beijing pledging closer ties.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for the first time ahead of the ASEAN Summit in Laos.
Lee Hsien Loong meeting Duterte for the first time ahead of the ASEAN Summit in Laos.

During the G20 Summit in early September last month in Vientiane, Laos, PM Lee Hsien Loong met Duterte for the first time and congratulated Rodrigo Duterte for his presidential victory and warmly invited him to visit Singapore.

This was despite Duterte’s condemnation of Singapore when he was a Mayor of Davao calling Singapore “a garrison pretending to be a country” and to Singapore “Fxxx you” he said in his usual foul demeanour.

On Oct 30, the Sunday Times reported that “Duterte plans to discuss sea piracy with Najib and Jokowi” and “After trips in rapid succession to China, Brunei and Japan, I’m going to Malaysia to complete my tour, because these are the countries that matter to me.”

Looks like despite the warm invitation by PM Lee, Singapore doesn’t figure much in the Philippines’ geopolitical equation and even when we have admitted one of the largest Filipino foreign talent workforce here in Singapore – robbing many Singaporeans of many coveted PMET jobs.

It is probable and disturbing to see the eventual isolation of Singapore from the ASEAN member States for what is attributable to our rudderless leadership.

  • This article was first published in The Independent