Filipinos' trust in China sinks after Recto Bank incident – SWS

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President Rodrigo Duterte (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (R)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 19) — Filipinos' trust in China plunged after a Chinese vessel hit and sank a Filipino fishing boat in the West Philippine Sea on June 9.

A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey conducted June 22-26 showed a -24 net trust rating for China, which is considered by the private pollster as "poor." This is down by 18 percentage points from the "neutral" -6 last March, and is the lowest since the "bad" -35 score in June last year.

According to the latest nationwide poll, only three in 10, or 27 percent of Filipinos, said they have much trust in China, while 51 percent expressed distrust. Twenty-one percent of the 1,200 adult respondents were undecided. The survey has a margin of error of ±3 percent.

Although the SWS did not cite possible reasons for the huge drop in China's trust rating, the second quarter survey was held amid an uproar over the controversial maritime incident near Recto Bank, an underwater feature in the West Philippine Sea claimed by the country and China. While President Rodrigo Duterte has insisted it was a "a little maritime incident," the Philippines protested the Chinese crew's "callous abandonment" of the 22 Filipino fishermen who were forced to float in the open seas for hours before being rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.

China has since pushed for a joint probe, but thumbed down Duterte's proposal for the involvement of a "neutral country."

The SWS poll also showed that most Filipinos doubt the intentions of the Chinese government, whose friendship Duterte has nurtured.

Less than half or 43 percent of respondents either strongly or somewhat disagreed with the statement, “Most of what the Chinese government wants to happen in the Philippines is good for the Filipinos.” Only 27 percent agreed, while 30 percent were undecided. This yields a net agreement score of -16, classified as "moderately weak."

China is least trusted

While Duterte has pivoted away from the US and towards China, the SWS survey showed the superpower remains the more trusted ally for Filipinos.

An overwhelming 81 percent expressed much trust in the US, while only eight percent said otherwise, for an "excellent" net trust rating of 73. This is the highest in almost four years, since the 74 score the US got in September 2015.

More than half or 55 percent of Filipinos also agreed that the US government wants what is good for the Philippines. Only 17 percent disagreed, while 28 percent were undecided.

The US got the highest trust rating among the seven countries in the survey while China got the lowest. Canada and Australia both got a net trust score of 46; Japan had 45; New Zealand, 38; and Malaysia, 34.

Duterte has been criticized for pursuing friendly ties with China despite the East Asian giant's incursions in the West Philippine Sea. This refers to the resource-rich area which the Philippines either claims or occupies in the South China Sea where China has built artificial islands, prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing, and interfered in oil exploration activities. China claims almost the entire South China Sea, rejecting an international arbitration ruling that invalidated its sweeping nine-dash line claim.

Whenever there are issues in the contested waters, Duterte would say he could not go to war with China for fear of losing Filipinos' lives. Maritime experts and critics however questioned why Duterte would always bring this up when war has never been an option since the Constitution has renounced it as an instrument of national policy. Malacañang, however, said it was Chinese President Xi Jinping who first said there would be "trouble" if the Philippines would drill for oil in the West Philippine Sea.

Malacañang claims Filipinos approved of how Duterte deals with China, as shown by the President's high approval and trust ratings in the latest Pulse Asia survey.