January 18, 2018: The U.S. compiled and released a report on Chinese activities in the South China Sea during 2017. The numerous detailed aerial and satellite photos showed that that China had continued to expand its artificial islands and installed numerous military facilities on six of these islands.
China had promised the Philippines it would not expand these islands but they did anyway in 2017 and that played a role in the Philippines backing off on its resistance to the Chinese territorial claims.
But now China is openly discussing its plans to expand its military presence in the South China Sea and future presence in the Philippine Sea ( w Duterte’s permission to do exploratory surveys in the Philippines Sea ) and proudly displaying progress on state controlled media. This includes plans to install more sensors throughout the South China Sea and put ten surveillance satellites into orbit so that the South China Sea is covered 24/7.
In late 2017, China appeared to have succeeded in buying cooperation from the Philippines.
The Filipino government is now willing to accept all the legal gifts (aid, investment, loans) China offers in return for the Duterte not resisting any Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
President Duterte pointed out in 2017 that China threatened war if the Philippines went ahead with plans to drill for oil in any offshore areas that international law recognizes as Filipino but that China claims actually belongs to it.
Duterte openly criticizes other nations for not confronting China and therefore sees no point in the Philippines trying to take on China by itself or at least not without a massive amount of support. All the South China Sea nations facing territorial losses because of Chinese claims have backed down to one degree or another. Duterte points out that even the United States is unwilling to go up against China and recent meetings with the new American president made it clear that the main threat to the U.S. from the region right now is North Korea, not China.
Meanwhile, the Chinese are openly moving more and more weapons to bases in the South China Sea as well as their main naval base in southern China (Hainan Island). Chinese officials admit that they are determined to get their way in the South China Sea but it is also the case that China prefers to buy what it wants rather than start a war over it. That is an ancient Chinese tradition that is currently giving a lot of popular and official support inside China. Effective Filipino resistance to these Chinese plans is not considered even a remote possibility.
The Chinese see the Philippines as fully neutralized since Duterte came to power and many Filipinos are not happy with that.
In addition to the Chinese communists, the Philippines still has problems with its internal communist rebels. Because the leftist (communist) NPA rebels continue fighting and repeatedly refuse to comply with ceasefire agreements the government has declared the NPA a terrorist organization. As a result of this police were ordered to arrest any NPA members out on bail. This comes after the government officially ended the stalled NPA peace talks on November 23, 2017 . In part that’s because intelligence analysts found some links between NPA factions and some of the Islamic terrorist groups such as Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State that took heavy losses in the May-October 2017 Marawi City battle.
The government “war on drugs” has left at least 13,000 dead in the 15 months until it was generally halted in October 2017. It did serious damage to the drug gangs and left a lot of innocent bystanders dead as many were using it to just get even with people they did not like under the guise the dead person was a drug dealer. President Duterte ignores foreign critics in large part because the majority (about 70 percent) of Filipino voters still support the anti-drug effort.
Voters are less pleased with the relative lack of progress in reducing corruption in government and the courts. Duterte said the drug problems were connected with a lot of the corruption but it turned out that the corruption was more difficult to reduce than drug use or Islamic terrorist violence.