President Rodrigo Duterte’s stance on the West Philippine Sea row with China reveals that his foreign policy is dictated by personal, not geopolitical considerations, a veteran journalist said.

Marites Vitug, editor-at-large at Rappler, pointed out that the president got financial support for his 2016 campaign from Chinese-Filipino businessmen.

Duterte was able to build closer rapport with Chinese businessmen and officials who wined and dined him, something that the Americans did not bother to do.

In 2016, Duterte declared an “independent foreign policy” and pivoted toward China, opting to discuss the West Philippine Sea dispute through bilateral talks instead of involving other countries.

“Kaya shocking nung 2016 talaga, nagulat na lang tayo when he declared his love for China and [President] Xi Jinping [sa buong mundo] …that was very revealing,” Vitug said in the Press Room podcast on Friday.

Critics, such as former Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio, have pointed out that China’s pledge to pour in $24 billion in investments and aid remained unfulfilled.

Vitug said bilateral agreements with China would lead to nowhere since China had cemented its position that waters within the so-called nine-dash line, markings adopted from Chinese maps in the 1940s, belonged to Beijing.

“Walang middle ground, walang atrasan… Kaya it’s not surprising if eventually, they’ll [also] take over Julian Felipe Reef,” Vitug said.

On May 9, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea reported that 287 Chinese vessels were still in the disputed waters, with 34 vessels near Julian Felipe Reef.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. ordered anew the filing of a diplomatic protest against China last May 13. Isabell Andrea Pine