Government News Analysis

Man of influence

On Thursday, Time magazine will release the official results of its 2017 Time 100 poll – an annual listing of today’s most influential people. And Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to top it; to be named the world’s most influential leader of the year.

While like most polls this one is absurdly unscholarly – according to the survey from which Time editors will make their winner selections, British actress and Harry Potter star, Emma Watson is as influential as US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin – one thing it did get right is that Duterte is undoubtedly one of today’s most powerful and influential statesmen.

Time 100 is not about popularity; it’s about men and women whose power and position can shape world events, move opinion, make a difference; men and women whose words and actions have the greatest influence. These are people being recognised for changing the world.

Ironically, Time has carried as much fact-starved anti-Duterte coverage as any in the Liberal-led mainstream media. It’s at the vanguard of publications that question Duterte’s fitness to lead his nation. But even this once-over-lightly Liberal American news weekly – its managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, is a sycophant of former US president Barack Obama – cannot deny that the man they’ve regularly depicted as a killer of his own people is currently one of the most powerful figures on the world stage.

We won’t go into the Time 100 survey which, at best, is a contrivance of who gets the most Like and Dislike hits on a list produced by Time itself. There’s nothing scientific about it; no analysis to support the nominations; they’re simply arbitrarily made by “Time alumni” and the magazine’s international correspondents.

And, of course, survey voters in many instances will select the person they want to be seen as the world’s most influential leader. In this year’s survey, for example, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, is voted in as the second most influential person on the planet – more influential than the leaders of America and Russia. On that we rest our case.

Leaving all that aside, though, there’s no question that Duterte is currently one of the world’s most influential statesmen. For although the Philippines might be small in terms of the size of its economy – it’s 60 times smaller than the US; 37 times less than China – the region in which it sits is hugely important geopolitically and Duterte’s influence in that region is considerable. And it’s growing.

The fact is – like it or not – the man Time likes to remind its readers is known as “The Punisher” has more influence over world affairs than any president of the Philippine Republic ever has had. Take a look.

China, the world’s third largest economy is eager to further consolidate Sino-Philippine ties. Relations between these two countries had never amounted to very much before Duterte came along; indeed, under his predecessor, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, all relations – from diplomatic to trade – had been effectively mothballed. Now Beijing and Manila are involved in “brotherly” ties in which the sky seems to be the limit.

Whether its trade and investment, people-to-people and technology exchanges or strengthening defence and security, everything is on the table and being discussed. There has never been a time in Sino-Philippine relations quite like this. Xi Jinping refers to the two nations as “neighbours across the sea whose people are brothers linked by blood”.

Japan, the world’s fourth largest economy, has had more leader-to-leader and ministerial-level meetings with the Philippines in the first nine months of Duterte’s presidency than happened in the first year of any of his predecessors.

Manila-Tokyo ties have never been more important to Japan than they are right now and the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, is extending trade and investment and security-cooperation deals to the Philippines like there’s no tomorrow. Japanese investment in the Philippines is at an all-time high. In January, Abe became the first foreign leader to visit Duterte’s home in Davao City, Mindanao – a hugely symbolic gesture or respect.

Russia, which in the past was on little more than a nodding acquaintance with the Philippines is now aggressively courting it, offering deals on everything from investment, trade – not least opening its vast markets to Filipino agricultural products – to arms sales and security assistance. Moscow is extending the hand of friendship to the Philippines like no time in its history.

Putin spent 45 minutes chatting to Duterte on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders’ Meeting in Peru last November – again, a hugely symbolic event. Since then contacts between the two countries’ foreign ministries have been stepped up in preparation for Duterte’s state visit to Moscow next month.

These three powerful world leaders – Xi, Abe and Putin – who in turn have gone out of their way to form close personal relationships with Duterte, are in no doubt about just how important the Philippines is at this time under his leadership.

Meanwhile, the heads of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) – the 10-state regional grouping of which the Philippines was a founding member – not only seeks to further harness economic integration with the Philippines through new trade and investment commitments, they’re fully supportive of Duterte’s efforts to clean-up the Philippines while leaders in parts of the West continually denigrate him.

Asean’s leaders have effectively circled the wagons where criticism of the Philippine president is concerned. None of them has been drawn into the war of words largely inspired by the previous Obama White House which then passed the baton to the European Union (EU). They’re fully behind Duterte’s domestic policies – whether it’s his War on Drugs or his desire to re-implement the death penalty – as well as his restructuring of Philippine foreign policy. None of them underestimate Duterte’s ability to reshape the region’s geopolitics through his sweep of bilateral negotiations with the big nations to the east.

In short, the Philippines sphere of influence in East and Southeast Asia is considerable under Duterte – far greater than it has ever been. Indeed, in the past, Filipino foreign-policy decisions relating to that region were effectively prompted by Washington under the guise of the US-Philippines “special relationship”.

For its part, meanwhile, the EU has no single leader that can match Duterte’s global stature. Few in Asia will have even heard of Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament. They may have heard of Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission and they’ll know Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. But their influence in any meaningful measure is restricted to Europe; it has little standing in East and Southeast Asia. They have very faint ability to shape affairs in this region.

And while the Australian PM, Malcolm Turnbull, has political clout regionally – not least via his relations with Indonesia – Canada’s Trudeau has practically none.

In short then, the Philippines sphere of influence in East and Southeast Asia is considerable under Duterte – far greater than at any time in its history.

And so in reality, it doesn’t matter whether Time decides if Duterte’s the number one or number 100 most influential global leader, the fact is he’s certainly near the top.

East and Southeast Asia in terms of trade is the most dynamic region of the world; it’s been the fastest growing for decades. That’s why Obama wanted to establish his now-failed multi-nation Trans Pacific Partnership trade grouping there. It’s why he wanted to “pivot to East Asia”.

But if all that’s not enough proof of Duterte’s powerful presence on the world stage, the way that he’s been consistently vilified by certain Western leaders and the swathe of mainstream media that serves them, should tell anyone that they fear his influence.

There are some really bad leaders elsewhere in the world – men who truly do persecute their people – but these are men from small nations often in remote regions. They will never be in a position of global influence and so those same Western leaders and media organisations that go after Duterte like a hyena pack largely leave them alone. They’re no threat to the Western-led, One-World Order which the global Liberal alliance seeks to establish. Duterte is, and that’s the point.

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