Skip to navigationSkip to content

Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs has killed thousands in the Philippines, but it’s winning praise from China

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony in Beijing, China.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, Pool
  • Steve Mollman
By Steve Mollman

Weekend editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, currently on a state visit to Beijing, has made clear this week that he admires many things about China, and has even gone so far as to say “I am Chinese” (referring to his grandfather apparently coming from Xiamen). But perhaps what he appreciates most about China is that it doesn’t criticize the way he governs.

That especially goes for his dubious war on drugs, which has been roundly criticized internationally—including by the US, UN, EU, and activist groups—for its flagrant human rights abuses, with thousands killed outside the law. He’s admitted that children and innocent people have been killed in the campaign, but he has called them ”collateral damage” and said, “If it involves human rights, I don’t give a shit.”

Duterte has responded harshly to anyone criticizing the campaign, saying US president Barack Obama could “go to hell” and telling the EU ”f*** you” twice in one speech.

“He’s irritated with the US over the human rights criticisms,” said political scientist Richard Javad Heydarian at De La Salle University in Manila. “He really feels this is an interference in his mandate.”

China, on the other hand, hasn’t criticized the campaign at all. In fact, it’s praised it. Yesterday (Oct. 19) Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry, said that Beijing “appreciates president Duterte’s efforts to crack down on drug crimes and improve social security with the fundamental interests and well-being of his country and people in mind.”

Duterte for his part said recently he appreciates that “China never criticizes. They help us quietly.”

He also made clear he was receptive to receiving investment and development aid from China. “If we can have the things you have given to other countries by the way of assistance, we’d also like to be a part of it and to be a part of the greater plans of China about the whole of Asia, particularly Southeast Asia,” Duterte said.

China has rewarded Cambodia, for instance, with large investment deals, often around the same time Phnom Penh has backed Beijing’s position in international fora, especially with regards to China’s sweeping territorial claims in the South China Sea. That happened both this year and in 2012, for instance, in meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, when Cambodia blocked joint statements on concerns related to China’s aggression in the sea.

Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has noted that, “Even if the West matched what China offers Cambodia in financial aid and investments, it would come with a demand that human rights and democracy be respected, neither of which China asks of Cambodia.”

Beijing does ask for some cooperation on certain matters, of course. Duterte suggested this week that an international tribunal’s ruling invalidating China’s sea claims—a major victory for the administration preceding Duterte’s—is just “a piece of paper with four corners.”

As for the US, Duterte said today (paywall), “I will not go to America anymore. I will just be insulted there.”

📬 Kick off each morning with coffee and the Daily Brief (BYO coffee).

By providing your email, you agree to the Quartz Privacy Policy.