Kerry-Duterte meeting seeks to retain Manila’s South China Sea stance: expert

The meeting between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila on Tuesday is meant to “persuade the Philippines to remain tough on the South China Sea issue,” Chinese expert said.

Kerry will meet Duterte and Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay to “discuss the full range of cooperation with the new administration,” according to a press release on the US Department of State’s official website.

“The US is eager to persuade the Philippines to remain tough on the South China Sea issue in a bid to secure its own interests, especially after Duterte recently indicated he was willing to repair the country’s relationship with China out of economic concerns,” Gu Xiaosong, an expert on Southeast Asian studies at the Guangxi Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The Xinhua News Agency quoted Duterte as saying on Friday that the Philippines could benefit more from China if the two countries could reach a settlement despite the recent arbitral court’s ruling on the South China Sea case.

“The US panicked when it failed to use The Hague ruling to push China to give up its claims in the South China Sea or a reference to the issue in the joint ASEAN statement,” said Gu, adding that Washington may reassert that the US and the Philippines are allies to put pressure on the latter.

In a meeting with Laos Foreign Minister Saleumxay Kommasith, Kerry “urged ASEAN to reach a consensus and issue a joint statement on the arbitral tribunal’s recent ruling on the South China Sea,” Reuters reported on Monday.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Monday that he expects the US to take steps to support China and the Philippines in resuming talks over the South China Sea issue, Xinhua reported.

Kerry said on Tuesday that he would meet Duterte to engage in dialogue and negotiations with China, according to a Reuters report. A official statement from the Philippines on Wednesday said that the meeting would be “a bid to strengthen ties” between the two countries.