Philippines President, Rodrigo Duterte, firmly aligns his country with China as US President, Barack Obama, chalks up yet another foreign-policy failure – this time the departure from the American fold of its oldest Asian ally. But, everything considered, this is a better fit for the Philippines – economically, geo-politically, culturally and ideologically. This is a bold historic shift that moves with the times. It is a victory for Philippine sovereignty and for the Filipino nation.
Thirteen bilateral agreements were signed in Beijing; US$13.5 billion worth of trade and other deals are being inked along with a commitment made to provide US$9 billion in low-interest loans. By any standards, this is a massive package; and that’s just the door opener. And so, with all that under his belt and the prospect of cementing even closer ties with the Mainland, it was time for Duterte to bring down the curtain at the conclusion of the final act of a play that had run out of dialogue.
And none of this should come as a shock; Duterte has been signaling this move since well before his election.
The new positioning does far more than draw a line under the Philippine Government’s anti-China rhetoric of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino – rhetoric that was clapped and encouraged by the US – it buries it six feet under. Now Duterte needs to uproot the seeds of anti-Chinese sentiment which the Obama-Aquino combine scattered and nurtured across the Philippine soil. If this partnership is to be a success, it needs to be fully embraced by the Filipino people. Business will almost definitely be fully on side; they’ve just been handed the keys to the largest market on the planet.
What made Duterte’s decision easy, however, was the endless torrent of criticism of him and his administration by Washington, its tame Western media, the US-led United Nations, and the American-fostered NGOs. Duterte was on this course before his war on drugs and the subsequent attacks on him had even started. And so the combined orchestrated effort to keep Manila in its place and as far away from China as possible, could not have been more ill-advised. It simply facilitated the parting.
And that arrogance came at a high price. Overnight, this sector of East Asia has become East Asian minus the American characteristics. For China, of course, it is a political and diplomatic coup par excellence. America’s sphere of influenced has been diminished while its own has been bolstered. The Volatilian™ expects to hear very soon that the military arrangements between the Philippines and the US – the joint-forces exercises and both the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement – are to be reviewed and possibly spiked; at least markedly reduced.
It needs to be said that the Philippine president holds no animosity towards the American people. He has never criticised them or even remotely suggested they are not welcome in the Philippines either as residents, tourists or investors. This is purely a political quarrel and exclusively involves the Washington political machine and its servants.
However, that same machine, unable to accept the will of a sovereign nation will no doubt encourage the US-led cabal of self-serving elites to continue their attacks on Duterte. But, given the new political format, that will turn out to be even more ill-advised. The Philippines, a small country, was perceived as a soft target – one whose misbehaviour could be easily corrected. Now as part of the extended China family it is anything but. It will pursue its road to real rather than virtual independence with the support of a powerful neighbour. But there are dangers.
Washington would like nothing better right now than for Duterte to be removed from power. That’s how much it treasures its influence in this region. Unfortunately for Washington, Duterte is not some rogue war lord who seized power in a putsch; he is a democratically elected president and one who garnered a landslide victory and who enjoys a trust rating of 92% of the entire country. A people’s uprising against him in the Philippines, then, is about as likely as the American people voting to become a province of Iraq. Though the way things are going in the US right now, maybe the odds on that are no so long.
That said, America’s barely concealed anger at what has just taken place is a cause for concern. US State Department spokesman, John Kirby, was apparently “baffled” that Duterte would parlay the judgement of a European arbitration court that gave the Philippines sovereignty over a cluster of rocks in the South China Sea for real economic gains from its adversary in that dispute. He obviously hasn’t been reading The Volatilian™; we’ve been signaling this shift and that deal in particular since April.
But, more worrying is what lies between the lines of his next statement – that this is “inexplicably at odds with the very close relationship that we have with the Filipino people”.
Leaving aside the fact that the US State Department has never had any direct contact with the Filipino people; much less a “very close relationship” with them – if it had, one would hope it would have had the basic intellect to have read this situation far more accurately than it did and save itself from being “baffled” – there is a veiled threat here.
The US and its covert operatives in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) are past masters at inciting rebellion and effecting regime change; and believe us when we say it, they are not above doing just that in Duterte’s Philippines. A sustainable American presence in this region is vital to Washington’s global positioning – and particularly at a time that it is attempting to pivot there, away from Europe and the Middle East.
Under Aquino they had all that pretty much wrapped up. But Duterte’s decision to set a northeasterly course is a major setback to their plan and they are not simply going to walk away from it like the loser in a chess game. Washington is furious. It called Duterte’s bluff and lost. And now it wants its ball back.
What is going to further compound this fracture is when Duterte makes his trip to the Russian Federation, likely within the next few weeks. If Washington has a problem with Beijing, it has a major problem with Moscow. These two countries are at loggerheads in the European theatre over Ukraine, Crimea, and the Balkans, and in the Middle East theatre over Syria and Iran.
Now it looks like it can add the East Asia theatre to the list. Russian President, Vladimir Putin, who has check-mated Obama in every encounter so far, will certainly want to forge a close relationship with Duterte. No doubt the Philippines status as a “non-NATO ally” will be among the topics up for discussion. Again, though, Russia’s increased interest in the Philippines has been apparent since Duterte announced his candidacy for the presidency.
There is no question – and never was – that the Philippines will do extremely well from its new alliance with China, and similarly with Russia. There is no question too, given Duterte’s commitment to his socio-economic agenda, that the Filipino people – this time; finally – will benefit from these economic gains. But, at the risk of repeating ourselves, Washington and its global army of logistical support is not going to relinquish its control over the Philippines lightly. This is a time for extreme vigilance; by both the government and the people.
The chances of Obama and his State Department throwing their hands in the air and walking away from their “special relationship” with the Philippines – one that, regardless of the odd tantrum, has stayed in tack since Philippine independence from the US in 1946 – are slim to nothing.
It is very likely that the US will seek to build on anti-Chinese sentiment in the country; they will also select an alternative to Duterte – someone they can work with, as they did in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi (flawed though that turned out to be) – possibly, the current vice president; the Liberal Party’s Leni Robredo. She would certainly be towards the top of the list. They will pump money into anti-Duterte media – mainstream and social – and seek to build an anti-Duterte coalition in the Philippine Congress. They will use their Wall Street friends and money men to control the Philippine stock market. They will foment civil disorder by funding protests and demonstrations – not least with student factions. And this is likely to start soon; Washington will want a rapprochement with Manila before the Filipino people can feel the benefits of their new relationship. Before any of that settles in.
Sounds fanciful? It shouldn’t; this is taken directly from the CIA playbook of practically every Central and South American insurrection that has been crafted by the CIA to topple a non-compliant leader and replace him with an obedient one. This is precisely what it’s capable of in a high-stakes game like this one. Watch this space.