The touch that melted years of icy relations- Sass Sasot
In my Foreign Policy & Diplomacy class, our professor taught us to take culture seriously and to not only focus on verbal cues. The non-verbal dimensions of interactions of leaders matters a lot, and sometimes more than what they express verbally. Remember the time Putin brought his dog during his meeting with Merkel? It was Putin psy-ops against Merkel, who has a phobia of dogs. How about the 2004 meeting between Qaddafi and Blair? Qaddafi pointed the sole of his shoe towards Blair. In Arab culture, that's an insult. Obviously, Blair didn't know it at that time; thus, in the picture, Blair was smiling as the sole of Qaddafi's shoe pointed towards him. Arab people quickly noticed it.
I just watched the video of Duterte's arrival in China. He was welcomed at the airport by Wang Yi, China's foreign minister. It was a very warm welcome. Wang offered his hand, Duterte took it. Wang touched Duterte's lower arm; Duterte reciprocated with a double-handshake, conveying a message that you are trustworthy and honest. The handshake was firm. It wasn't released quickly, signifying interest, sincerity, attention. Wang's face was so close to Duterte. Their faces were solemn, as Wang was telling Duterte something. Then Wang gripped Duterte's upper arm. At the moment Wang touched Duterte's right arm, Duterte's eyes closed for a few seconds, he looked like as if he was relishing that moment of intense proximity. And I understood why: Wang's grip put him much closer to Duterte's personal space. In Chinese culture, this proximity is only reserved for people you trust.
No negotiations can be successful if there's no mutual trust among the parties involved. The trust between China and the Philippines deteriorated so bad during the Aquino administration. The series of touch these two statesmen shared signal that years of this icy relations are melting - a diplomatic climate change.
From Thinking Pinoy:
"Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in Chinese, "The last few years of Sino-Philippine relations did not only damage the interests of the Filipino People but also affected the situation in the region. No force can stop the reinstatement of friendly and stable relations between China and the Philippines. When President Rody Duterte took office, he made the friendly choice to rebuild relations, in line with the national interests of the Philippines, in line with the historical trends of development, a choice that no one, no force, can stop." [source]