While it’s very much up in the air whether Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will fly to Washington to meet US President Donald Trump at the White House – frankly it looks unlikely – the fact is that as long as tensions persist on the Korean Peninsula, there’s likely to be close contact between these two heads of state in any case.
And there should be; the Washington establishment needs as much input from this region as it can get on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). East and Southeast Asia are parts of the world that have lived under the cloud of the Kim Dynasty – the ruling family of North Korea – for more than 60 years. They understand better than most how the regime up there works. More to the point, they know why not to prod the Korean dragon; what could really happen if someone does. They have a fair idea of what its leader is capable of.
Last weekend, speaking after the conclusion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) heads of state summit, which this year the Philippines chairs, Duterte had this to say to the American leader: “Mr. President, please see to it that there is no war because my region will suffer immensely”.
His warning was stark. DPRK leader Kim Jong-un (photo), he said, “simply wants to end the world, that is why he is very happy. He is always smiling. But he really wants to finish everything and he wants to drag us all down … just let him play… do not play into his hands'”.
The so-called experts in the Washington media – mostly people who’ve never been anywhere near the Philippines, much less understand it or the complexities of Asia’s political culture for that matter – have attacked Trump for reaching out to Duterte over the current North Korea standoff.
Josh Rogin, a columnist for the Global Opinions section of The Washington Post, believes that if Trump wants to talk to Duterte it should be about human-rights abuses in the Philippines, not about North Korea. “… there’s really no substantive link between the Philippines and US efforts to confront the regime of Kim Jong Un [sic],” he wrote.
Thank goodness he has no role in determining US foreign policy. It has enough problems without him adding to it. What Trump is endeavouring to do is build a coalition within the East and Southeast Asian regions to better deal with Kim. And Asean is a big part of that.
Let’s help Rogin get his swollen head around all this. In 2014, Washington Post sweetheart and then US president Barack Obama, built a coalition including from across the Middle East to ‘defeat’ the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the Syrian regime in Damascus; neither of which, of course, he came close to achieving. And guess what, there were characters in that coalition that had deplorable records for human rights abuses. Them aside, there were also terrorist groups co-opted to the cause – ‘reasonable’ players the world was led to believe.
“We are going to have to find effective partners on the ground to push back against [ISIS]. The moderate coalition is one that we can work with,” said Obama.
That “moderate coalition” – there are no moderates in that theatre, by the way – included Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a re-formation of the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front; Fateh Halab which last year was accused of war crimes, killing civilians and use of chemical weapons, and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement which has been accused, along with another coalition member, Ahrar al-Sham, of abducting and torturing journalists and humanitarian workers – and with Abu Amara Brigades has been cited for carrying out summary executions and throwing people off buildings to their death. And there were plenty of others like them.
Yet, at the time no one in the precious Democratic Party-driven US mainstream media saw any problem with that. Indeed, they fully backed Obama’s initiative.
By contrast, the administration in Manila is not a terrorist organisation, it’s a democratically elected government and is currently supported by 80% plus of the Filipino nation. Furthermore, Trump is reaching out to Asean for geopolitical purposes – evidently also well beyond the grasp of media pundits in the US capital – to gather partners that will stand shoulder to shoulder with the US. Splits within Asean, therefore, would seriously weaken any coalition formed to confront Pyongyang.
Significantly, the Philippines is a founding member of Asean and is this year’s chair of the Asean Summit. Furthermore, within Asean – whether The Washington Post likes it or not – Duterte is highly regarded and well respected. And his efforts – to rid his country of illegal drugs and stamp out a criminal culture that’s succeeded in damning the lives of several generations of Filipinos – far from being criticised by his fellow members in the regional grouping, are applauded.
But, as we all know, Duterte’s big crime as far as the US media is concerned was that he insulted the man who kept them as loyal pets – their master still, Barack Obama.
And so that same media goes after Duterte at every opportunity, fallaciously linking him with extrajudicial killings (EJKs) which they erroneously attach to his War on Drugs – they produce no proof of course – while continually inflating the numbers to keep the story going.
So let’s talk about some real numbers like the 563 drone strikes which Obama ordered on targets in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen that killed anywhere between 390 and 800 civilians. That’s real blood on Obama’s hands; no fiction. It’s also 10 times the number carried out by his predecessor, Republican president, George W. Bush.
And what of the 15,696 murders committed across the US in 2015? Were they extrajudicial killings carried out by Obama? No doubt if that killing spree continues under Trump, he’ll be charged with EJKs by the propagandist press.
The North Korea issue right now is extremely important to this region – far more so than it is to the US. The US doesn’t live there. The countries most affected in geographical-distance terms are South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan. Obviously, therefore – though apparently not to the The Washington Post – these countries need to be consulted. Any action taken by the US would directly affect them – evidently something else that Rogin and Co. have failed to consider. Or perhaps they don’t care; after all it’s not happening in their backyard.
Duterte represents (at the time of writing) 103,551,369 people, while The Washington Post – which represents itself and the political Liberal elite of America – has a circulation that’s a tiny fraction of that. The point being, its voice is too large for its audience and its audience is not anywhere in this region.
Asean and East Asian leaders are pragmatists; they have to be, it goes with the territory – something else that seems to be beyond the comprehension of the insular US mainstream media. The fact is, Democratic Party icons such as House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, and Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer of New York wouldn’t have the first clue of how to run Indonesia or Myanmar or the Philippines – they can’t even run their own states. Those places are awash with drugs and gun crime.
However, given the hostility of the US press towards Duterte there can be no good reason for him to visit Washington. He has far more important things to attend to at home. Going there to be pilloried in the media would be a distraction and would only play into the media’s agenda.
Furthermore, Trump will be in Manila in November for the large Asean Summit that will be attended by world leaders including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping – the heads of two countries Duterte will be visiting in the next couple of months. They of course will make him welcome. And you can guarantee North Korea will be on their agenda – something else, no doubt, the pompous and conceited Washington Post will take issue with.
Philippine-US relations, meanwhile, look to be headed in a far healthier direction under Duterte and Trump – something you’d expect the media to be pleased about, given the bellyaching they made when Duterte was spurning the US last year. They’ve already forged a good personal relationship – oddly, thanks in part to the US mainstream media onslaught against both of them. We’re fairly sure that wasn’t their intention but nevertheless that’s been the result. And all their attempts to isolate the Philippines in international affairs by belittling its president have utterly failed as Duterte continues to raise the status of his country on the world stage.