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Crisis Management

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Since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte came into power, his foreign policies seem to bypass traditional guidelines of Filipino foreign policies such as a strong alliance with the United States and closer ties with ASEAN. A majority of media and scholars hold negative views on the US-Philippines relationship, saying the US “failed” the Philippines. In my opinion, the tensions between the United States and the Philippines is like a “lover’s quarrel”, as a “strong boyfriend”, the United States is able to stand Philippine lose temper sometimes, but “breaking up” is no way. In other words, my core assumption is that the tension will escalate to some degree, but it will de-escalate finally provided the alliance between the US and the Philippines exists.

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Figure 1 the Escalatory Model

In regarding to “Three Dimensions of Escalation” raised by the RAND Corporation, escalation can be divided into three types, i.e. vertical escalation, horizontal escalation, and political escalation. Obviously, the tensions between the US and the Philippines don’t belong to the vertical escalation as these two countries still remain their alliance relation, and there is no any armed conflicts or confrontations between them. However, it’s hard to clearly distinguish that the conflict belongs to the horizontal escalation or political escalation since it has characteristics from both sides. Firstly, the boundary of conflict goes beyond the United States and the Philippines. China, Russia and other ASEAN countries are involved, too. Given that the Duterte administration has started only three months, so the Philippines’ objectives and demands are likely to change under the changing international situation.

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Figure 2 Possible Trajectories in Escalation

As we can see, Figure 2 shows the possible trajectories in escalation. Three important issues so far contributed to the escalation. These are, the US President Barack Obama cancelled meeting with the Philippines President Duterte on Sep. 6th; The Philippines President Duterte declared he would terminate annual military exercises with the US on Sep. 28th; The Philippines President Duterte will make a state visit to China on Oct. 18th. Among all these big issues, Duterte’s visit to China will become a crucial one, which will push the escalation to a higher level. In the near future, the tension will keep going up for some time, once the United States adopts some “strong” reactions, the conflict will definitely de-escalate. In general, the tension between the US and the Philippines is controllable.

So what’s the key factors that may result in the crisis escalation?

In my opinion, the tension escalation mainly depends on the development of China-Philippines relations. Under the background of the US strategy “Pivot to Asia”, Manila is a lynch-pin with a coastline on the South China Sea. However, since Duterte came to power,what he said and did deviated from the original plan of the United States, so if Manila went to Beijing, which could tear a huge hole in the US “Rebalance to Asia”. Therefore, how much close of China-Philippines relation will have a significant effect on the level of US-Philippines tension escalation. But as I mentioned at the beginning of the paper, as long as the Philippines remains the alliance with the United States, the tension escalation has an upper limit. As for Filipino “abnormal actions”, Washington’s attitude is relatively mild so far. It is believed that Washington is observing and evaluating the real purpose of the Philippines and its next steps. As planned, Philippine President Duterte will make a state visit to China from Oct. 18th to 21st., so China will become the first Non-ASEAN country to visit since Duterte became the Philippine President. According to the speech of Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, President Duterte will meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang during his trip in Beijing and have a “deep exchange of views” on how to improve ties, cooperation and regional issues. [1]Undoubtedly, Duterte’s visit to China will definitely escalate the tension with the US, but whether it will keep simmering or slow down, Washington’s following reactions play an important part. For example, what Washington can do is to exert pressure on the Filipino elite group and interest group who will transfer the pressure to President Duterte.

Moreover, the US presidential election has been ongoing since past a few months, there is almost no chance of any serious diplomacy in the remaining of the Obama administration, so how to control the tension situation is the next president should consider. Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, whoever wins the presidential election will have an influence on the tension escalation. But if Hillary Clinton wins the election, I believe the tension situation will de-escalate soon or at least the escalation will be slowed down.

On the other hand, China’s attitude towards the Philippines is also crucial. In China, although a large number of news reports showed happiness over these developments, there are some scholars and experts hold a wait-and-see attitude. A Chinese proverb says that “Listen to what one says and look at what one does”, and Beijing is likely to adopt “watch and see” policy. Therefore, if Beijing and Manila come to some agreements during President Duterte’s trip in China, it will push the tension escalation.

Besides, the direct factor is the United States over-interference in the internal affairs of the Philippines and President Duterte’s governance style. The typical example is the Duterte administration’s domestic policies that are extra-judicial killings of “drug addicts and dealers” as well as the crackdown on crime and corruption, which have received lots of critical comments from the western world, especially the United States. Besides, the US Ambassador to the Philippines, Philip Goldberg also frequently criticized Duterte’s domestic policies violating of the human rights. On the other hand, President Duterte who is not a member of the elite so that his governance has strong populism color, which appears in his heavy-handed domestic policies and a major adjustment to the foreign policies of the former President Benigno Aquino III.



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