Outside of the Korean peninsula, a World War 3 alert looms for another Asian bilateral relationship.
Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has become one the world’s most recognizable foreign leaders for the aggressive language he uses toward other dignitaries. Last year, he called Barack Obama a “son of a wh**e,” the same term he also used to refer to the Pope.
Most of these comments were in response to criticism he has received for the violent way he has handled the war on drugs at home. Rodrigo has promised to kill 3 million drug addicts, just as, he said, Hitler “slaughtered 3 million Jews.” While Duterte later argued that these remarks were blown out of proportion by the media, comparing oneself favorably with Hitler is unlikely to gain support around the globe — especially when a string of potential conflicts, from Ukraine to Syria to Korea, have some wondering if the planet is just one dictator away from World War 3.
Despite controversial policies at home and shocking rhetoric abroad, Rodrigo has still maintained several key allies around the region. Though if he wants to keep them, he must learn to handle them with care.
In a recent meeting with President Xi Jinping, Duterte told the Chinese president that he planned to carry out drilling operations in an area under dispute by the two countries in the South China Sea, pointing to a ruling in his country’s favor from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
Appearing at a press conference shortly thereafter, Rodrigo Duterte publicly shared his recollection of the meeting, reported Al-Jazeera.
“[I told him that] we intend to drill oil there, if it’s yours, well, that’s your view, but my view is, I can drill the oil, if there is some inside the bowels of the earth because it is ours… His response to me, ‘we’re friends, we don’t want to quarrel with you, we want to maintain the presence of warm relationship. But if you force the issue, we’ll go to war’.”
Of course, the possibility of a full-on World War 3 scenario is slim. The world’s largest militaries — Russia, France, China, the United States and Great Britain — are unlikely to risk entering into any kind of a bloody global conflict. Yet it’s worth noting that a man with questionable intentions, whether it be Adolf or Rodrigo, is never to be underestimated. Nor should history be particularly reassuring — the Independent noted that before World War I and World War II, few believed they would escalate so far.
“Yet it is possible that future conflict between the great powers may take the form of another cold war or even a conventional (as opposed to thermonuclear) hot war. In the 21st century, there are three key fronts emerging as the loci for future wars. The first is the Europe-Russia front with a new cold war triggered by the Ukrainian conflict. The second is the Middle East cauldron centered around Isis and the Syrian war. The third is the Asia-Pacific front with a face-off between the United States and China.”
Duterte isn’t the only unpredictable actor on set either. The world’s superpowers continue to scramble for how to deal with Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s frequent weapons tests. Still, it’s worth noting that the country most likely to suffer from an attack, South Korea, is, by and large, not as alarmed by threats that Kim Jong-un will turn their country into a “sea of fire.” They have, after all, heard such bluster for seven decades.
North Korea, increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, has few powerful allies — Russia and Iran — that would be willing to back it up if the globe was pushed to the brink of World War 3 or another Korean War. Even the countries that may support the DPRK ideologically would be unlikely to do so militarily, particularly if the budding “bromance” between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to blossom. After all, an alliance between the world’s two undisputed superpowers would be suicidal to go up against.
If a World War 3 alert comes along, do you think Rodrigo Duterte will be to blame?
[Featured Image by Etienne Oliveau/Pool/Getty Images]