Survey released day of Xi Jinping’s arrival shows most Filipinos want China out of West Philippine Sea

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping. PHOTO: AFP, Thomas Peter
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping. PHOTO: AFP, Thomas Peter

Well, this certainly isn’t a warm welcome.

A survey released today shows that despite the Philippine government’s warming relations with China, most Filipinos still very much hold an anti-Chinese stance on the longstanding West Philippine Sea issue.

The results of the study by social research institution Social Weather Stations (SWS) basically screams “Keep off our property” to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who arrives in Manila today.

87 percent of adult Filipinos interviewed in September said that it’s important for the Philippines to regain control of the disputed islands occupied by China.

72 percent said it’s “very important,” while 15 percent said it’s “somewhat important.”

In contrast, only 1 percent said it’s “somewhat not important” and another 1 percent said it’s “not at all important.”

10 percent were undecided about the issue.

China has slowly been building structures in the West Philippine Sea, including in waters that belong to the Philippines, Reuters reported in May.

According to data gathered by the news agency, China already had more than 1,600 buildings in the area at the time while the Philippines only had 100.

Despite this, President Rodrigo Duterte has been lackadaisical with his approach in defending the Philippines’ claims and once said that he won’t go to war with China because he probably won’t win.

In February, he also made a tone-deaf joke about making the Philippines a province of China during an event attended by Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua.

But most Filipinos don’t share the same defeatist attitude as their president.

The SWS survey released yesterday found that 84 percent of Filipinos surveyed said that it is wrong for the government to “leave China alone with its infrastructures and military presence in the claimed territories.”

This result is up by three points from the June survey’s result of 81 percent.

86 percent also believe that the Philippines should strengthen its military capability and 71 percent think the Philippine government should raise the territorial dispute to international organizations like the United Nations or the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

It also turns out that there are now more people aware of the dispute. The same survey shows that 89 percent know about the conflict, 8 points up from the 81 percent result from a similar survey in June.

Among the 89 percent who know about the West Philippine Sea issue, 15 percent had “extensive knowledge,” 32 percent had “adequate knowledge,” 41 percent had “only little knowledge,” and 12 percent had “very little knowledge.”

However, it looks like more people are starting to trust the superpower.

While China’s latest net trust rating is still “poor” (-16), this is 19 points higher than the “bad” (-35) rating it got in June.

According to SWS, China has only been rated positively by Filipinos nine out of 47 times since they first surveyed it in August 1994. In contrast, net trust in another superpower, the United States, has been positive since SWS first surveyed it in December 1994.

However, the latest survey shows that there were fewer people who trusted the U.S. in September. While still rated “very good” (+59), this is six points below the +65 net trust score the U.S. got in June.

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