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Among the many memorable lines from Rodrigo Duterte's run for the presidency was this colorful threat to Chinese leaders: If elected, he would personally ride a jet ski across the South China Sea to plant the Philippine flag on the Spratly Islands that are claimed by both countries as their own. Just past 100 days into his controversial reign, Duterte headed north this morning instead, arriving in Beijing — by airplane.


Indeed, much has changed in these few short months. Though he has garnered the most attention for the violent anti-drug countdown at home that has left more than 2,300 dead, Duterte has also made waves internationally. Not only has he had shockingly harsh words for both President Obama and Pope Francis, Duterte seems intent on overturning a half-century of foreign policy built around tight relations with U.S.


This helps to explain today's soft landing in China to meet President Xi Jinping. Playing world powers off of each other is a favorite tactic of ambitious leaders of smaller regional players. But there may also be reasons closer to home for Duterte, who himself is of Chinese descent. At a forum last week Duterte had this message for Filipino businessmen: "Study the Chinese style. It's an innate thing in them, the art of doing business," he said.


Yesterday, on the eve of his visit, which would include some 400 Filipino business leaders, Duterte spoke with the state Chinese news agency Xinhua: "Some other countries know we are short of money, but instead of helping us, all they had to do was just to criticize. China never criticizes," he said. "They help us quietly. It's part of the sincerity of the people." Duterte's is yet another immigrant story, and his state visit to China is one more foreign business trip.

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Geopolitics

Russia's Military Failures Are Really About Its Soldiers

No doubt, strategic errors and corruption at the highest ranks in the Kremlin are partly to blame for the Russian military's stunning difficulties in Ukraine. But the roots run deeper, where the ordinary recruits come from, how they are exploited, how they react.

Army reserve soldiers go to Red Square to attend a Pioneer Induction ceremony

Anna Akage

To the great relief of Ukraine and the great surprise of the rest of the world, the Russian army — considered until February 24, the second strongest in the world — is now eminently beatable on the battlefield against Ukrainian forces operating with vastly inferior firepower.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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After renouncing the original ambitions to take Kyiv and unseat the Ukrainian government, the focus turned to the southeastern region of Donbas, where a would-be great battle on a scale comparable to World War II Soviet victories has turned into a quagmire peppered with laughable updates by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on TikTok.

The Russians have not managed to occupy a single significant Ukrainian city, except Kherson, which they partially destroyed and now find difficult to hold. Meanwhile, Ukrainian civilians are left to suffer the bombing of cities and villages from Lviv to Odessa, with looting, torture and assorted war crimes.

The reasons for both the poor performance and atrocities are many, and include deep-seated corruption and lack of professionalism up through the highest ranks, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who had never served in the army, and arrived in his position only because of his loyalty to the No. 1 man in the Kremlin.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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