China Moves to Isolate Philippines, Japan
Image Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

China Moves to Isolate Philippines, Japan


The Philippines and Japan’s charm offensives towards China appear to have failed as Beijing seeks to isolate both powers within the region.

In recent weeks both the Philippines and Japan have made a number of overtures to China aimed at mending strained bilateral ties. Just this week, for instance, the chief of staff of the Philippine military, Emmanuel Bautista, pledged that his country would continue its no-confrontation doctrine in the South China Sea, while also saying that it would consider allowing Chinese naval ships to use the Subic port.

“Many foreign ships visit our ports and we welcome them, that is part of military diplomacy,” Bautista told The South China Morning Post, referring to the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).

Equally notable, Filipino President Benigno Aquino III announced earlier this month that he was accepting an invitation from China to attend a one day business expo in Nanning. He was expected to be received by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang during the September 3 trip.

Japan has been even bolder in its overtures to China, with numerous Japanese officials and former officials quietly visiting China on a number of occasions throughout the summer. Although few specific details were revealed about the trips, there was little doubt that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was sending the envoys to try and improve ties with China, which have been strained since Japan nationalized some of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands last September.

Indeed, Abe said as much himself in his numerous calls for leader or foreign minister summits between China and Japan in recent months.

“I think there should be a summit meeting and also a foreign ministers meeting as soon as possible … I think such meetings should be held without pre-conditions,” Abe said at the end of July.

Other Abe administration officials have been making similar remarks, and Tokyo has expressed optimism that these summits would soon be held.

China has now roundly rejected the overtures from both nations. On Thursday the Philippines’ Foreign Ministry announced that Aquino was cancelling his visit to China next week at the request of the Chinese government. Beijing, for its part, denied having invited Aquino in the first place.

China has also repeatedly rejected Japan’s calls for a leader or foreign minister summit. Most recently, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Li Baodong said that there would most likely not be a summit with Japan and the sidelines of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg next week.

“A bilateral meeting involving leaders is not only about taking photos and shaking hands, it offers an opportunity for leaders to work out a solution to problems,” Li said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Beijing’s rejection of the Filipino and Japanese overtures does not signal that China is abandoning or moving away from regional diplomacy. To the contrary, China has been mounting something of its own charm offensive throughout the Indo-Pacific. Earlier this month, for instance, Foreign Minister Wang Yi spent six days in Southeast Asia. While warning that ASEAN countries need to be realistic in how quickly the South China Sea dispute could be resolved, Beijing has generally shown a greater willingness to discuss the issue over the last month or more.

This week, China even agreed with Vietnam—the ASEAN nation it has clashed with most frequently besides the Philippines—to work towards resolving their row in the South China Sea, and next week Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra plans to visit China next week for the trade fair Aquino was supposed to attend. Additionally, on Thursday the Thai Foreign Minister announced that during a meeting between FM Wang and his ASEAN counterparts, it was agreed that “We will not allow any particular issue to overshadow the ASEAN-China relations, which are progressing well.”

After repeated PLA incursions into India earlier this year, China has been pushing ahead with progress towards dialing down its border dispute with Delhi as well. Last week India announced that China had sent it a draft border cooperation agreement that both sides expect to sign when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visits China in October.

Chinese officials have also been traveling to North Korea after a long absence, and U.S.-China military and defense cooperation has improved markedly over the summer. Indeed, China’s Defense Minister, Chang Wanquan, traveled to Washington last week and the two sides held their second joint naval drill last weekend. Chang and his American counterpart, Chuck Hagel, met again on the sidelines of the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting-Plus (ADMM) this week, after holding talks at the Pentagon last week.

Thus, China has only been reluctant to engage Japan and the Philippines diplomatically. This is almost certainly aimed at isolating Beijing’s disputes with Japan and the Philippines from its relations with other regional powers. In other words, China hopes to reduce regional concern over its rising power and greater assertiveness by portraying its spats with Japan and the Philippines as rare exceptions to the general rule of China maintaining positive relationships in the region.

The aim of this policy is to shift the blame for the disputes onto Tokyo and Manila, reduce the amount of balancing China faces, and complicate Japanese and Filipino efforts to make common cause with other regional states.

It’s worth noting that this is the natural state of Chinese diplomacy since ancient times, when Chinese leaders used shrewd diplomatic maneuvers to get “barbarians to check barbarians.”

September 6, 2013 at 14:19

That's because China doesn't want to be the one looking like the "unfriendly one" here. If you will make a thorough research, the real reason Aquino has pulled out his visit is due to the unusual requests China has made, like the PHL government should pull off their arbitration case in the UNCLOS.

September 5, 2013 at 18:35

Liangia,you inhale the china's pollution that is why your tiny brain was affected…go to japan and have some fresh air and later you will understand that china sucks…

September 5, 2013 at 07:55

Then you don't know Americans that well. American lives were lost in retaking those island in WW2. So no, they're holding those islands in memory of the ultimate sacrifices.

September 5, 2013 at 07:47

Sure, exporting countries like Japan need consumer markets and China has the biggest untapped consumer market in the world. There's a catch though. The CCP would rather see Chinese companies benefitting from aforementioned Chinese consumer market. From what I could observe so far, foreign companies come in to do business in China, but later they are pressured to leave once their technology and know-how has been learned by Chinese counterparts. So in the long run, people will realize that the only ones who will be benefit from China is China itself.

September 4, 2013 at 14:39

its useless arguing with with a 10-cent troll. wait i forgot it was increased to 50 cents…. good times are rolling. much easier to buy that latest model I-fake

September 4, 2013 at 14:36

what made you said that.  i heard on tv aquino himself saying he will go to china upon the invitation. you obviously have little idea how PROC double talks

September 3, 2013 at 18:01

No join our camp lets overthrow that cancer you call your Government. You Han Chinese can learn a lot from your Malay Brothers


September 3, 2013 at 00:14

You do not understand the situation. It is ONLY China who claims the areas as all their won. No other country in the world supports China's claim. Wake up. It is much more than Japan and the Philippines China would be up against if it came down to a military confrontation. China would certainly loose.

September 3, 2013 at 00:10

Whom ever wrote this article is very mis-informed. China never invited Aquino. Aquino even addressed the medie saying he would not attend the summit in Nanking.

September 2, 2013 at 13:24

China is not trustworthy.She has disputes with each of her neighbors. I would advise Japan, Philippines, South Korea and all other nations that love freedom to nuclearize themselves, one can never know when China or her proxies will start a war.

September 2, 2013 at 06:16

I agree that the Philippines needs to remove the restrictions on foreign investment. A lot of Filipinos are asking the Philippine government to remove these restrictions, there are many petitions for more foriegn investment by many Filipinos business chambers and councils.


I would say within the next 5 years at most the restrictions will be removed based on the current situations within the Philippine government.

September 2, 2013 at 06:12

Japanese businessmen prefer the Philippines over China.

Recent survey shows 80% of Japanese citizens have negative sentiment towards China. Japanese companies are currently the biggest investors in the Philippines.

September 2, 2013 at 06:11

FIlipinos don't care if China "isolates" the Philippines. Filipinos are already boycotting Chinese products. The Philippines biggest trading partners are the USA and Japan. This won't affect the Philippines at all.

Furthermore the biggest investors in the Philippines are Japanese, South Koreans and Americans.

To China, go ahead, no one cares. Japan is already planning on moving its factories to Indonesia and the Philippines.

September 2, 2013 at 03:36

hideeho wrote:

August 31, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Uh dude, you forgot that the Vietnamese chief of military staff was visiting with Chuck Hagel. doing the play-by-play can be kind of tedious, but it assumes that the Chinese know what they are doing or even have a strategy. It really seems like they don't. If that's the case, then it makes sense that they have no coherent message, policy, etc. Which they don't.


Actually China has a strategy which is to increase exports at any cost.  Unless and until the Chinese leadership realized that exports is a dead end street, Chinese policy will not change and China will continue to kiss the Japnese boot while ignoring the defense of its disputed territories.

September 2, 2013 at 03:32

There is no sincerity in Japan's and Philippines' gestures of "friendship".  These are only insulting gestures made while they increased hostile actions against China.  China must give Philippines an ultimatum to get out of China's 9-Dotted Lines as a follow up to its demand given by its foreign ministry spokesperson back in June.  Then China should act militarily in Philippines did not comply.  As to Japan, China should kick all Japnese businesses out of China as punishment for its hostile actions over Diaoyu Islands.  Xi is not acting in the defense of Chinese sovereignty if he just carry on business as usual.

September 1, 2013 at 22:15

China can consider sole sovereignity  of Diayou Island  and forego  the 30-million  Chinese lives lost during agression by Japan during ww2.

September 1, 2013 at 12:14

Well, the Chinese know the Filipinos very well.  They were there before the Spaniards, and they will be there till doomsday.  The Chinese know the "balato" system.  Those who do not earn their keep, but want a share of the good fortune due to the works of others want "balato".  The Philippines want "balato" from American power to back up its claims to the reefs somewhere out in the SCS.

September 1, 2013 at 12:00

Chinese descent?  Same goes for Aquino, Osmena, Marcos (his father's surname is Chua), etc.  Yes, the Malay blood intermingles with Chinese blood, so should Filipinos be in the China camp?  But, it is more attractive to be in the US camp in their minds.

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief