Tough balancing act for tough Rody

President Duterte is now faced with a difficult balancing act after recent events that are expected to bear on his leadership skills or the lack of it.

The Supreme Court's ruling upholding the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) sealed the bind that the country has in terms of hosting the American government's Asian pivot.

While it is within Duterte's power to rescind the executive agreement, such an action would result in huge complications in the country's relations not only with the United States but other nations that are investing heavily to help beef up the country's military might.

Both the United States and China are not letting up on Duterte, either as US Secretary of State John Kerry's recent visit showed while China continues with its carrot and stick approach to Duterte.

The crux of the battle for Duterte's attention between China and the US is the recent ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague that essentially ruled as invalid the nine-dash claim of China over most of the South China Sea.

The US along with Western allies and basically the Philippines and Vietnam and Asia are demanding that China recognize and comply with the decision of the arbitral tribunal.

China which has not recognized the arbitration proceeding has demanded that the Philippines abandon the PCA Award which restored to it territories that China had occupied before official bilateral talks are held.

The PCA decision has placed Duterte in estoppel over his policy with China since it compelled him to act according to the court ruling on the previous administration's tough dealings with China that was instigated by the US.

Both the supposed expansionist drive of China and the Asian policy pivot of the United States happened at the same time, with the US aiming to contain the fast emerging Asia powerhouse while China pushes back through its military and economic might.

China since the PCA ruling appears to have become sensitive to every action and statement of Duterte.

China, for instance, did not let pass Duterte's reference to the South China Sea conflict in his State of the Nation Address despite the two-sentence mention of the issue in the more than one and a half hour speech.

"With regard to the West Philippine Sea otherwise known as (South) China Sea, we strongly affirm and respect the outcome of the case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration as an important contribution to the ongoing efforts to pursue the peaceful resolution and management of our disputes. On the aspect of our peace processes relating to our engagement with the international community, the Philippines shall remain committed to work under and with international partners achieving lasting peace and progress in the country," Duterte said.

China in a statement published in its state news service Xinhua said Duterte made a wrong political judgment over the South China Sea issue by giving weight to what it called as "illegal and invalid arbitral award against China."

China said the arbitration move "launched by President Duterte's predecessor and steadily rejected by China, has become an illegally established barrier for Manila itself to overcome in order to start talks with Beijing to end their island spats."

"If the Philippines truly wants peace, then, it should come back to the right track. That starts with recognizing the harms the arbitration has already inflicted on bilateral ties and regional tranquility," it said.

Kerry said the US government will encourage China and the Philippines to engage in dialog, of course with the PCA ruling as a reference point, which China had consistently rejected as basis for talks.

Duterte and Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, thus far, have not shown a consistent stand on the South China Sea issue and state one thing or another depending with whom they recently talked.

Likely, it would not be the drugs war that will define Duterte's maiden year but how he handles the potential crisis that is the conflict with China.

Source: Tribune