Philippine Hedging Strategy in the South China Sea: an Analysis of Approaches by President Benigno Aquino III and President Rodrigo Duterte
Winston, Rachel Anne
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CitationWinston, Rachel Anne. 2020. Philippine Hedging Strategy in the South China Sea: an Analysis of Approaches by President Benigno Aquino III and President Rodrigo Duterte. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractWhile the Philippines and China are neighbors, their courtship has been unpredictable at best and tumultuous at its worst. During President Benigno Aquino III's administration (2010-2016), threatening altercations between the Philippines and China at Scarborough Shoal dangerously escalated into conflict with China forcibly taking territory within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone. Tensions grew persistently throughout Aquino III's presidency as the PRC pressurized the cauldron by building and then militarizing artificial islands in the Philippine's backyard. As China continues to build military posts in the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone, outfitting them with missile systems and warplanes, and ramming Philippine fishing vessels or confiscating Filipino fishermen's catch, Philippine leaders must consider their alternatives: The United States, China, or hedging between both.
China's assertion of maritime claims in the South China Sea includes repositioning their military in Southeast Asia, slowly pushing toward supplanting the United States as the regional hegemon. By seeking to control the South China Sea, neutralizing ASEAN rivals, and projecting trust, benevolence, and power, China has changed the balance of power and challenged small states to choose between the United States and China. Heightened uncertainty regarding China’s rising power status and United States’ great power positioning has led Southeast Asian states to simultaneously balance and engage. This hedging strategy creates an unpredictability factor in state relations, economic opportunity, and national security. Furthermore, outside influence, financial enticements, and political coercion have played no small part in this decision-making conundrum.
As states mitigate risk, they incorporate military, political, and institutional protection mechanisms on the one hand while negotiating cooperative trade, financial, and diplomatic agreements on the other. Unable to predict China’s intentions, states have hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. Without an international rule of law, followed by all states, rules of engagement and means of enforcement are absent. A states’ misinterpretation of both rhetoric and actions could have serious consequences. The hope that multinational institutions will arbitrate or enforce standards and treaties have dissipated with states’ lack of transparency and disregard for international agreements.
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